Tue, Nov 25, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Hong Kong voters reject pro-Beijing candidates

SENDING A MESSAGE The high turnout and poor showing of pro-China parties were regarded as a further blow to Tung Chee-hwa's government


Ip Kwok-him, left, deputy chairman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, hangs his head after hearing yesterday he had lost to pro-democracy candidate Cyd Ho, right, in a district election in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong voters turned on the main pro-Beijing party in local elections, giving a sharp rebuke to an unpopular government and a major boost to the pro-democracy camp, results showed yesterday.

The district council elections on Sunday were the first opportunity to measure popular support for democracy since massive public protests rocked Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's (董建華) government in July.

However, few analysts predicted the rout inflicted on the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), which supported a controversial security bill that brought half a million people onto the streets in protest.

Democratic Party Chairman Yeung Sum said the results and the record turnout of just under 45 percent sent "a clear message to Tung Chee-hwa and the Chinese government that the public wants full democracy."

He called for full universal suffrage to elect the next chief executive in 2007 and the Legislative Council in 2008.

The territory's 18 district councils have very few powers and small budgets, and mostly advise on local issues such as traffic problems. The polls usually evoke little interest, but in the aftermath of the July protests campaigning was vibrant and turnout was up 30 percent on four years ago.

The result set the stage for elections to the more powerful Legislative Council next year, with analysts saying government control of the legislature could be weakened even though only half the seats are elected.

The Democratic Party claimed 93 seats -- compared to 86 seats in 1999 -- while the DAB won just 64 seats compared to 83 in the last elections. A total of 400 seats were elected, but only 326 were contested.

Pro-democracy groups have stepped up pressure on Tung to start consultations for constitutional reforms toward the goal of full democracy, which is stated under the Basic Law -- the territory's mini-constitution since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

However, the Basic Law does not lay out a timetable for achieving full democracy. Tung is currently hand-picked by an 800-member committee.

Fears a proposed security bill would erode fundamental freedoms guaranteed for 50 years under the Basic Law led 500,000 people to march against the bill and caused its withdrawal.

Defeated DAB Chairman Tsang Yok-shing offered to resign, saying his party had suffered from fostering close ties with the government. The party is to meet next week to discuss the results and Tsang's future.

"A serious defeat reflects shortcomings and so it is only right for me to step down," Tsang said.

Tsang said he had also informed Tung of his decision to resign from the Executive Council -- Tung's Cabinet.

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