Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 1 News List

HK elite go to the polls to choose election committee


An elite group of Hong Kongers voted yesterday to pick members of a committee that will choose the territory's next leader.

Pro-democracy groups hope to win enough seats in the committee to be able to nominate a candidate for the leadership race.

But few expect the vote -- which only 204,000 registered voters can participate in -- will give pro-democracy candidates control of the 800-member election committee. The panel has been traditionally composed of figures loyal to Beijing.

Nearly half -- or 373 -- of the seats have been determined because races are uncontested or the electors are appointed. However, competition is still keen with 803 candidates contesting 427 seats in 23 subsectors.

The contested seats have been allocated to professional or civic organizations representing groups such as accountants, educators, lawyers and laborers.

Elections chief Pang Kin-kee (彭鍵基) said yesterday that he expected the turnout rate to be higher than the previous election in 2000.

"I believe the election will be fiercer this time. The weather is also good today. I think the turnout rate will be higher than the 19 percent of last time," Pang said.

In the first 10 hours of voting -- until 5:30pm -- 34,804, or 17.01 percent, of the 204,000 registered voters had cast their votes. Polling stations were scheduled to close at 10pm. Results were not expected until early today.

"Today's selection of members who will represent the various subsectors of the Election Committee is the first milestone down the road to election of the next chief executive. It is therefore a very important day for Hong Kong," former No. 2 official Anson Chan (陳方安生) said in a statement yesterday.

Pro-democracy parties were backing 137 candidates that support full democracy for the territory by 2012. The pro-democracy camp was hoping that enough candidates would win seats on the panel to support its candidate, Legislator Alan Leong (梁家傑), in the March election. Candidates need at least 100 votes from the election panel to get on the ballot.

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