Hong Kong Election Hands China Defeat

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong voters have slapped China in the face by handing a convincing victory to the pro-democracy camp in the last legislative elections before the 1997 handover of the British colony to Beijing rule.

In the race to elect all 60 members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council for the first time in 150 years of colonial rule, the Democratic Party, whose leaders have been denounced by China as subversives, won three times as many seats as pro-China rivals in results announced Monday.

Beijing's standard bearers, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, or DAB, suffered the further humiliation of seeing the defeat of its top guns, party leader Tsang Yok-sing and his two deputies.

"Democracy wins. Hong Kong people want democracy. Hong Kong people certainly are in support of political reforms and they want a system of checks and balances to deal with Beijing," said political scientist Joseph Cheng of City University.

But the victory in Sunday's election was not enough to give the pro-democracy camp a majority in the Legislative Council and the chamber appeared evenly split between pro-China and pro-democracy forces. The Democrats won 19 seats while labor and other probable allies won another 10 for a total of 29.

The DAB and its close labor allies won eight seats. The pro-business Liberal Party, which often looks on the Democrats with suspicion, won 10. The balance of independents and small parties are mostly conservatives or pro-China or both.

The DAB's poorer than expected performance, however, is likely to anger China, although Beijing tried to put a positive spin on the results.

"The results of the ... elections showed that hope for a smooth transition and love of the motherland and Hong Kong remain the main trend in Hong Kong," said a spokesman for the official Xinhua news agency's Hong Kong branch, Beijing's de facto embassy in Hong Kong.

The spokesman repeated China's vow to dismantle the legislature when the British leave and to replace it with an institution of its own choosing. Beijing is furious about electoral reforms pushed through by British Governor Chris Patten a year ago.

Xinhua had reminded Hong Kong of China's vow when the polls opened on Sunday, but its broadside may have backfired.

"Nobody likes to be pushed around or bullied," said political scientist Michael DeGolyer, director of the 1997 Transition project based at Hong Kong's Baptist University.

The pro-democracy camp fared particularly well in the crucial 20 seats from the normal population-based constituencies, the so-called geographical constituencies.

Each person with a job gets a second vote to elect candidates based in so-called functional constituencies based on professions. These elect 30 Legislative Council members.

The Democratic Party won 11 of the 20 geographical constituency seats against the two secured by the DAB.

The pro-democracy camp made up of sympathetic independents and smaller affiliated parties took the balance and the pro-business lobby took one.