HK Democrats set to win poll

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The Independent Online
Voters last night gave overwhelming support to pro-democracy candidates for Hong Kong's Legislative Council in the last election under British rule, according to an exit poll. They defied a warning from the New China News Agency (NCNA), Peking's unofficial embassy in the territory, which repeated that the political system would be dismantled when China takes over in 1997.

The exit poll by the University of Hong Kong showed the Democratic Party, led by one of the most outspoken critics of China, Martin Lee, would win at least 12 of the legislature's 20 directly elected seats in the freest poll in Hong Kong's history.

Another two independents who support the party's stand against China were ahead, while the main pro-Peking group, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, or DAB, seemed assured of only one directly elected seat.

The Governor, Chris Patten, whose efforts to leave behind a greater measure of democracy in Hong Kong have been denounced by China, said the NCNA statement was "characteristically unhelpful", and "quite extraordinary when the people of Hong Kong are going through an electoral process like today".

The turn-out was just over 35 per cent, lower than the 39 per cent recorded in 1991, despite an increase of more than half a million registered voters.

Mr Patten said the proportion of votes cast vindicated moves to create a more broadly based system. Although two thirds of the legislature is still indirectly elected, Peking accuses Mr Patten of having violated past agreements with his reforms. China's intervention may have been designed to boost the pro-democracy lobby. This would enable Peking to portray the new Council as unrepresentative of Hong Kong opinion, and undermine the DAB, which is not fully under China's control.