Pro-democracy candidates win Hong Kong special election

By Lauren Keane
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 17, 2010

BEIJING -- Five pro-democracy candidates won reelection by comfortable margins to Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Sunday, ending a special election that the group's supporters had worked to frame as a referendum on faster reforms toward full democracy.

But low voter turnout and a boycott by pro-establishment parties undermined efforts to recast the election as a broader political issue, and it seemed doubtful that the results would influence the pace of reforms.

The government's election Web site reported turnout among Hong Kong's 3.4 million registered voters at 17.1 percent. The special election came after five legislators from smaller, left-leaning parties resigned together in January. They hoped that doing so would lead to a direct electoral confrontation with their pro-China counterparts.

But the pro-China parties boycotted the contest, and many residents followed suit. Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang and senior government officials said they would not participate.

The Chinese State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office condemned the "so-called referendums" as a direct challenge to Chinese authority over the former British colony, which is a special administrative region of China and subject to its own laws.

The pro-democracy candidates said they were fighting for direct elections of Hong Kong's chief executive and its legislative representatives. The chief executive is chosen by an 800-member committee dominated by groups with close ties to the mainland Chinese government; half of the Legislative Council members are elected, and half are appointed.

When Britain transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised that it would eventually allow direct elections in the territory. But the Chinese government gave no timetable for fulfilling that pledge, and the issue has since been a primary point of contention in Hong Kong politics.

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