HK pro-democracy parties edge ahead in district elections

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The Independent Online
A RECORD number turned out yesterday for Hong Kong's first fully democratic district board elections, but more than two- thirds of registered voters did not bother to cast their votes. By 7am local time, with more than two- thirds of the results declared, the pro-democracy parties had taken the largest number of seats, but the main pro-Peking group was also faring well.

A good turn-out was crucial for the Governor, Chris Patten, who has spent the past two years in dispute with China over increasing democracy in the colony. In total, 693,283 people voted, a 63.5 per cent increase on the last district board elections in 1991. After the polls had closed, Mr Patten said: 'This is a good day for Hong Kong. And another mark of Hong Kong's maturity.'

Asked how China should see the elections, he said: 'It's not a threat to anybody, it's the sort of thing you'd expect to happen in any community as sophisticated as Hong Kong.' China intends to disband all electoral bodies when it regains Hong Kong in mid-1997.

As a percentage of registered voters, the turn-out was only 33.1 per cent, compared with 32.5 three years ago. Among 18 to 21 year olds, allowed to vote for the first time, the turn-out was also less than one-third. Analysts said the percentage figures were under-representative because the roll contained many people who had moved home or left.

Yesterday's polls for district boards, the most localised tier of government, were the first under the new electoral system. A record 707 candidates were vying for 296 seats, with another 50 seats returned uncontested. With more than 200 of the results declared, the pro-democracy coalition of the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK) and Meeting Point had won more than 50 seats. The Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood had taken more than 25.

The pro-Peking Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), in its first proper test of how a party closely aligned with the Chinese government can do at the ballot box, also had more than 25. The pro-business Liberal party, was trailing with about 10. More than a third of seats declared were won by independents.

Previously, one-third of district board members were appointed by the government. This time, board members are elected and next year, in a change that China objects to, they will choose 10 people, when Hong Kong votes in Legislative Council (Legco) elections.

Voters offered different reasons for their choices as they emerged from the kindergarten school polling station in Heng Fa Chuen constituency, a middle class area on the east side of Hong Kong island.

One 33-year old professional and his wife had voted for the pro- Peking DAB. 'I am not concerned with the party, only with the individual,' he said. But they planned to vote for the UDHK in next year's Legco elections, when the candidates' stand on democracy and China is likely to be define people's decisions. Many other voters said that the 'China issue' had been uppermost in their minds. One education administrator in his fifties said he and his wife had voted for the UDHK: 'Because we want democracy.'

AFTER a five-month delay, the Hong Kong government will today resume its forced repatriation programme for Vietnamese boat people despite threats from some asylum-seekers to harm themselves in protest.

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