HONG KONG: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Pro-democracy party triumphs in HK election
, December 13, 2003
In a ringing endorsement of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, District Council elections in Hong Kong gave victory to the Democratic Party, headed by Martin Lee, which won 93 seats, while the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Kong Kong (DAB) lost 21.
The District Councils are advisory bodies that deal with community affairs, and normally have little significance.
But on this occasion, over a million people voted in the election, which followed widespread concern over attempts by the Beijing-installed Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee Hwa, to enact legislation which would severely restrict the rights of freedom of association of people in Kong Kong.
Around 500,000 participated in a protest rally on July 1 against the new laws, and as a result, Mr Tung deferred the Bill.
A front-page headline in the English-language South China Morning Post
called it "another day destined for the history books".
The District Council elections come less than a year before elections will be held for Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco).
Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum acknowledged in the aftermath of the party's stunning success at the District Council elections that unity between pro-democracy organisations will be the key for next year's poll.
"The Democratic Party will aim to strengthen ties with other groups in the democratic camp so as to avoid competing with each other [in the Legco polls]," he said.
Under the terms of the transfer of power from Britain to Beijing, there are 60 seats in the Legislative Council.
The Legislative Council election next September will see the number of directly elected seats rise to 30 from the 24 in the last elections in 2000. This will be half the total number of seats in the legislature.
The other 30 seats will be elected by functional constituencies representing 28 major economic, social or professional groups, most of which are government-nominated.
But the biggest loser may have been Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa's administration.
The Democratic Party pointed out that the results show that people want the right to elect their own leaders, rather than have them appointed by Beijing.
Associate Professor Ma Ngok of Hong Kong's University of Science and Technology, said: "I think the [Hong Kong] Government will be in an ever weaker position, now that the people have shown that they are not approving the performance of the pro-government parties.
"In the near future, if the Government proposes a controversial or unpopular policies, the pro-government parties will be more hesitant to support the Government."
Observers predict the anti-government sentiment, as demonstrated in the July 1 rally, will definitely affect the result of next year's Legislative Council election.
This represents a major challenge to the new Chinese President, Hu Jintau, who has publicly declared his commitment to an extension of democracy in mainland China.
Hong Kong, now a Special Administrative Region of China, is emerging as a major test of his credibility.
The Chinese leadership is reportedly split on whether to make concessions to Hong Kong's pro-democracy forces, or crack down harshly and decisively, according to some analysts.
It is believed that Chinese hardliners, aligned around former President Jiang Zemin, are increasingly worried Hong Kong is spinning out of their control.
The official response from Beijing was restrained. The online edition of the official government newspaper, The People's Daily
, headlined its election coverage by pointing out that "District Council Election held [on] Sunday saw two records broken - the largest voter turnout rate and the highest number of votes cast.
"The election threw up 400 representatives who are to serve in the SAR's 18 District Councils during the next four years.
"With Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa and senior government officials taking the lead, 1.06 million Hongkongers cast their votes Sunday, the highest in the history of District Council elections."
However, The People's Daily
forgot to mention that pro-Beijing candidates were routed at the polls.
There has been widespread speculation as to how Hong Kong will elect its new leader when chief executive Tung Chee-Hwa's second term of office ends in 2006.
Mr Tung, who was hand-picked by Beijing, has said he will initiate consulation on constitutional reforms early next year to meet calls from pro-democracy groups for the direct election of the next chief executive by 2007.
Mr Tung has been battling to restore political credibility after his popularity slumped to an all-time low after unprecedented protests in July forced the Government to back down on its controversial national security bill.
Interestingly, a leader of the pro-Beijing DAB has joined the call for an extension of direct democracy, by stating that the Basic Law - in effect, Hong Kong's constitution since its reversion to Chinese rule in 1997 - allowed for a gradual move toward direct elections of the Chief Executive.