- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

HONG KONG — Pro-democracy candidates made small gains in Hong Kong’s elections but failed to make the inroads that they had expected and needed in order to push their agenda of universal suffrage, according to partial results released today.

Democratic leaders expressed disappointment at the results of yesterday’s vote but took heart from winning a majority of the popular vote, an indication, they said, that Hong Kong residents were dissatisfied with their Beijing-backed rulers.

With about 70 percent of votes counted, the pro-democracy camp had extended its presence in the southern Chinese enclave’s 60-seat Legislative Council from 22 seats to 23 or 24, far below the 28 or 29 they had hoped for.

About 55.6 percent, or 1.78 million, of the 3.2 million registered voters had turned out, the highest number of ballots cast in any election in Hong Kong. Results were delayed after electoral officials ordered a recount of ballots cast on Hong Kong island.

The chairman of the electoral-affairs commission, Woo Kwok-hing, did not explain the reasons for the recount, but pro-democracy candidates had complained of irregularities and missing ballot papers.

Politicians from the opposition Democratic Party conceded that they probably had fallen short of expectations after two candidates became embroiled in campaign scandals. One remains locked up in mainland China after police said he was caught with a prostitute.

“I am not happy with that,” said Martin Lee, the movement’s veteran figurehead, after exit polls predicted a poor showing by Democrats.

Yeung Sum, chairman of the Democratic Party, the pro-democracy camp’s prime organization, put a brave face on things.

“We would have liked to get more seats, obviously, but we appear to have won a majority of the vote, so we are pleased with that,” Mr. Yeung said.

Yesterday’s election was being seen as a referendum on the city’s feelings toward Beijing after 14 months of turmoil when the Chinese leadership was accused of interfering in the running of the city.

Hong Kong has been a largely self-governed enclave of China since it took control from colonial power Britain in 1997.

But China has adopted a more hands-on role after half a million people took to the streets on July 1 last year criticizing the local Beijing-picked government.

It is concerned that the growing calls for full democracy in Hong Kong that followed the rally could be socially and economically destabilizing. It also fears that they could spark similar demands on the mainland.

Mr. Yeung said the election sent a clear message that Hong Kong did not want China’s interference and that it signaled the public’s support for Democrats’ calls for universal suffrage by 2007, when the city’s political leader must next be chosen.

“We won a majority of the vote, so you can see that the result of the so-called referendum on China was won on our side,” Mr. Yeung said. “You can draw the conclusion that there are more who support it than oppose it.”

Despite pro-democracy candidates winning a majority of the popular vote, about 63 percent, Hong Kong’s convoluted electoral system means those votes do not translate into a majority of the legislature’s seats.

A democratic majority still would have been no guarantee of power as the city’s Beijing-appointed leader has veto rights over any decision the legislature makes.

Pro-Beijing parties had notched up another two seats halfway through the count, benefiting from an increase in the number of seats directly elected this year. They retain their control of the chamber.

Among the expected winners were Mr. Yeung and Mr. Lee, and maverick radical activist “Long-hair” Leung Kwok-hung. James Tien, the leader of Beijing’s most favored party, also was on course to win.

Controversy surrounded the election after candidates and watchdogs said many voters were turned away when overstuffed ballot boxes forced several polling stations to be closed at peak voting times.

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