09/13/2004, 00.00
hong kong - china
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High turnout of voters; small gain for democrats

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – A record turnout of voters in the Legislative Council elections yesterday sent a clear message to Beijing and the Hong Kong government that they want full democracy. However, Pro-Beijing parties have kept their majority; the pro-democracy camp gained 3 more seats, although the results were poorer that expected.

A record 1.78 million, or 55,6 per cent, of the 3.2 million registered voters cast their ballots, defying fears scandals involving candidates would dampen voters' enthusiasm.

The turnout surpassed the record 1.49 million votes cast in 1998, and far exceeded the 1.33 million, or 43.5 per cent, in the 2000 polls.

Despite the high turnout that had been expected to favour the democrats, results of exit polls released last night showed they were likely to win 19 seats in geographical constituencies. Together with functional constituency seats, this would give them 24 seats - well short of the majority some had hoped for.

Veteran activist "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung was tipped to win a seat in New Territories East, providing a potential thorn in the side for the government. Outspoken former radio host Albert Cheng King-hon was also tipped to win in Kowloon East.

Yeung Sum, chairman of the Democratic Party, the pro-democracy camp's prime organisation, 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.

Sunday's election was being seen as a referendum on the city's feelings towards Beijing following 14 months of turmoil when the Chinese leadership was accused of interfering in the running of the city. Despite pro-democracy candidates winning a majority of the popular vote, some 63 per cent, Hong Kong's convoluted electoral system means those votes do not translate into a majority of the legislature seats. The remaining 30 seats of the Legislative Council are elected by special interest groups (200 thousand people from the business community, lawyers, tourism employees,…) that have tended to favour the pro-Beijing camp.

The high turnout caused long queues. Many had to wait for over half an hour to vote.

Meanwhile, a shortage of ballot boxes sparked complaints from voters, with some leaving the polling places without voting, frustrated by the delay. The democrats sought a recount on Hong Kong island, after concerns that a series of irregularities had marred the count.

Political commentators hailed the high turnout as evidence of the maturity and high political consciousness of Hong Kong people.

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