Candidates backed by Beijing delivered a crushing blow to Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp in district council elections, sweeping up nearly a third of the contested seats, election results showed yesterday.
Although district councilors have little real power, the election is seen as a litmus test of the public's appetite for democratic reform amid an economic upturn, and the democrats' popularity ahead of more important legislative polls next year.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment (DAB) and Progress of Hong Kong, a party backed by Beijing, won 115 out of 364 seats, nearly double the seats it won in the last elections.
The main opposition Democratic Party secured 60, or just over half the number it contested.
About 1.1 million, or some 38 percent of the 2.9 million people eligible to vote, cast ballots in Sunday's election, down from 44 percent in the last district polls in 2003 when the democrats swept the board.
"At this time our party is facing tremendous difficulties," said Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho (
His party rejected this request.
"Last time, political topics were rather strong, but for district councils, livelihood issues are most important and the DAB has traditionally been strong in district work and this has been welcomed by the public," DAB Vice Chairman and Legislator Lau Kong-wah (劉江華) told reporters.
While the Democrats had some isolated successes, including in the affluent Peak district, the poor showing caused the head of one of its allies, the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood party, to step down.
The grassroots polls were one of the most fiercely contested in recent years, with the two sides grappling over the pace of political reforms -- and eager to consolidate political influence before major legislative elections next year.
"This is really a bad day for the Democrats ... It will help the DAB to win next year's legislative council election, the political climate favors them," City University political analyst James Sung (
A by-election next month pitting Democratic champion Anson Chan (陳方安生) against pro-establishment rival Regina Ip (葉劉淑儀), will now be closely watched to see if Chan might restore some vigor to Hong Kong's Democratic movement.
"We firmly believe that democracy remains a very, very important pursuit of the community ... we firmly believe that the majority of Hong Kong people, roughly 60 percent ... still want to see democracy as soon as possible," said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), a senior member of the pro-democracy Civic Party.
"We have to admit, however, that democracy as an entire platform is certainly inadequate. We need to do something more," he said.