Low turnout in Hong Kong special elections deals blow to democracy campaign

By Min Lee, AP
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Low turnout deals blow to HK democracy campaign

HONG KONG — Most Hong Kongers stayed away from special elections Sunday that five opposition lawmakers had triggered, dealing a blow to their democracy campaign in this former British colony.

With just two hours to go before polls closed, only 14.6 percent of Hong Kong’s 3.4 million registered voters had cast ballots in the special election to fill vacancies in each of the territory’s five major electoral districts.

The contest was engineered by five legislators who resigned in January to set up a showdown against pro-Beijing candidates that would be a de facto referendum on democracy. But Hong Kong’s leading pro-China political parties boycotted and Beijing condemned the resignations.

While Hong Kong has continued to enjoy Western-style civil liberties under Chinese rule, its top leader is picked by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists and its 60-member legislature is half-elected, half chosen by interest groups.

The five ex-legislators pressed ahead, running for their old seats and arguing that a strong turnout would be a mandate to negotiate with Beijing. They set a target turnout of 25 percent — which they estimate to be their base — but appear set to fall short.

“The turnout rate right now is so-so. I hope more people will come out to vote in the next few hours,” one of the former lawmakers, Tanya Chan, said.

The head of Hong Kong’s leading pro-Beijing political party said the referendum campaign had failed.

“The low turnout rate is a reflection of public opinion — most people in Hong Kong do not support the de facto referendum on universal suffrage. The whole by-election is a waste of public resources and taxpayers money,” said Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The five ex-legislators are still expected to easily win re-election, having run against a smattering of unknown candidates.

The five candidates made a last-minute appeal for votes on Sunday, canvassing restaurants where locals were enjoying dim sum and touring the territory in cars.

“Fight for a fair and just society,” one of the candidates, Leung Kwok-hung, said as he handed out campaign flyers outside a subway station in his district.

The referendum campaign has drawn mixed responses since it was launched. Independent polls have consistently shown more opponents than supporters.

Domestic worker Mak Ling-jen said she was disgusted by what she called a “political game.”

“Is this a joke — resigning and then participating in elections again? It is a waste of taxpayer dollars and public resources,” the 55-year-old said. “This whole thing is wrong and I am deeply unsettled by it.”

Toeing Beijing’s line, the Hong Kong administration has called the referendum campaign unnecessary, with leader Donald Tsang saying Friday that he and his senior officials won’t vote in the special election. But the government has gone ahead and organized the contest as required by law.


Associated Press writer Joyce Woo contributed to this report.

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