The two main candidates in a Hong Kong legislative race viewed as a referendum on democracy made their final appeals for votes yesterday, a day before one of the most closely watched elections in the territory in recent years.
Anson Chan (
Chan and Ip are competing to fill a seat vacated by a top pro-Beijing politician who died of cancer. The result won't change the balance of power in the legislature, which is controlled by pro-China lawmakers, but the election has shaped into a symbolic showdown on the pace of democratic reform.
Hong Kong's leader is chosen by an 800-member committee loyal to Beijing, and only half of the territory's 60 lawmakers are elected by the populace, with the rest chosen by interest groups.
Beijing's allies in Hong Kong say they support a gradual shift toward democracy, while the opposition demands the swift introduction of direct elections for all political offices.
Former security chief Ip, who gained notoriety for pushing a national security bill that sparked a massive protest in 2003, is backed by Beijing's local allies.
Chan, a rising star under British rule and former No. 2 in the administration, is the pro-democracy camp's preferred candidate, and public opinion polls suggest she is likely to win the vote.
But political analysts say the vote could go in Ip's favor if there is a low turnout on polling day.
Chan urged everyone to vote yesterday.
"I hope [Hong Kong] citizens understand that every one of their votes is a decisive vote," she said.
Politics academic Ma Ngok said the stakes were especially high for the pro-democracy camp because they have defined the election as a referendum on democracy.
The opposition is also desperate to make gains after faring poorly in recent district council elections.
"Chan is the most popular candidate they can find. If they still lose, it represents a big change in public opinion," Ma said.
"It would significantly undercut their mandate or bargaining power in campaigning for direct elections," said Ma, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.