Days after voters gave Hong Kong's top pro-Beijing party a big thumbs-down, critics fear Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) could fuel public anger if he uses his powers to appoint a bunch of allies to the territory's local councils.
The outcome of the District Council elections was a "political tsunami" that could intensify if the unpopular Tung uses appointments to effectively stack the deck, political scientist Michael DeGolyer said.
Under Hong Kong's system that critics call rigged, ordinary voters were able to fill 400 seats on the 18 councils -- but Tung can now appoint up to 102 more.
Although the District Councils are charged with advising the government on local issues like garbage collection and traffic, the tone of the races turned decidedly political following a July 1 march that drew a half million people into the streets protesting against Tung and an anti-subversion bill that many called a threat to civil liberties.
Tung eventually backed down on the anti-subversion bill, but the march gave birth to a so-called "people power" movement in Hong Kong that has shown staying power.
Political analysts predicted yesterday that Tung will top off the councils with pro-government business leaders, like he did last time, watering down the voice of the people and leaving him increasingly isolated as Hong Kong braces for legislative races next year that could spell bad news for the government.
"A magnanimous gesture on the part of Tung would be to abolish the appointment system, but certainly he will not do it," said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), head of political science at the City University.
"I predict he will continue to appoint pro-government people with a high proportion of businessmen," he said.
Tung's office declined early yesterday to say whether Tung will make any appointments. Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam (林瑞麟) ruled out picking any failed candidates for council seats.
"Our policy is not to appoint candidates who lost in the elections," Lam said.
With more citizens clamoring for greater democracy in Hong Kong, which now limits the power of rank-and-file voters, the biggest pro-government, pro-Beijing party was hurt badly in the local races.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, or DAB, claimed just 62 contested seats, a loss of 21 when compared with the last District Council election in 1999. The opposition Democratic Party scored 92 seats, compared with 86 last time.
DAB Chairman Jasper Tsang (曾鈺成) submitted a resignation following "the worst defeat we have suffered" and if the party accepts, Tsang's future on Tung's top policymaking body, the Executive Council, is in doubt.
The local elections could be a preview of next year's legislative races, in which ordinary voters will get to fill 30 of the 60 Legislative Council seats, as opposed to just 24 last time.
The other half will be chosen by special interest groups in the September elections.