- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

HONG KONG Amid gripes about Hong Kong's unpopular leader and the lack of full democracy, citizens and special interests chose a new legislature yesterday that critics say will be unduly dominated by pro-Beijing forces and big business.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa wasn't on the ballot, but came under harsh attack from voters who accuse him of bungling the governance of Hong Kong in the three years since it returned from British to Chinese sovereignty.

Ordinary citizens were able to vote for just 24 of the 60 Legislative Council seats and exit polling conducted for television ATV showed pro-democracy candidates were expected to win two-thirds of those seats.

Special-interest groups such as business leaders, lawyers and doctors picked 30 candidates in a system first established under British rule that gives them much more voice than average citizens. Six were selected by a committee in a convoluted arrangement that opponents say ensures control by pro-Beijing figures and business interests.

As preliminary results were released early today, they indicated ordinary people were siding with the political opposition, while the special-interest groups came down squarely in favor of the pro-Beijing and business candidates.

Numbers for the popular vote were available from just one district, but with one-third of the total counted, they showed voters leaning heavily toward pro-democracy candidates with a slate of pro-Beijing candidates trailing badly.

Other districts were not yet reporting early today and election officials said they did not expect full results until later in the day.

The first two slots picked by special interests went to pro-business and pro-Beijing parties, while several unopposed seats and those chosen by committee also went to that camp.

The end result will be a situation where the political opposition can do little more than use the Legislative Council as a platform to clamor for more democracy and intensify their attacks on Mr. Tung's government.

"It's certainly undemocratic and unfair," said Martin Lee, the opposition Democratic Party boss who appeared to have won re-election.

"The social undercurrent is very bad," said voter Jimmy Leung, a 62-year-old retired restaurateur. Mr. Leung accused many influential Hong Kong people of going against their consciences to curry favor with China. "They've become pro-Beijing imperialists."

Mr. Tung voted in a park where a small group of protesters led by long-shot candidate Leung Kwok-hung were chanting "Down with Tung." One sat in front of the polling place to scream anti-Tung slogans, setting off a minor scuffle as police moved her back.

Turnout was low. Despite clear weather, just 43.6 percent of the ordinary voters turned out, compared with the 53.3 percent who braved a storm to cast ballots two years ago.

Mr. Tung, visiting a vote-counting center early today, was asked if his low popularity had discouraged people. "There's not just one reason, but we will study it."

Noting Hong Kong's first direct legislative elections were held in 1991, Mr. Tung predicted "the voters will learn from their experience and I think our political system will gradually become more mature."

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