Hong Kong election aims to pressure Beijing for democracy

Hong Kong on Sunday held by-elections triggered by pro-democracy lawmakers.

Updated: May 16, 2010, 13:35 PM IST

Hong Kong: Hong Kongers voted on Sunday in territory-wide special elections triggered by five opposition legislators who resigned in the hopes of pressuring Beijing to implement full democracy in this former British colony.

The five former lawmakers, who represent each of Hong Kong`s five major electoral districts, quit in January with the intention of setting up a showdown against pro-Beijing candidates that will serve as a de facto referendum on democracy.

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.

Beijing has condemned the democracy activists` campaign and Hong Kong`s leading pro-China political parties announced a boycott.

With the five ex-legislators likely to win re-election overwhelmingly against a smattering of unknown candidates, political analysts question if the campaign will influence the Chinese government. Still, the democracy activists have pressed ahead, arguing that a strong turnout on Sunday will pressure Beijing.

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

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Hong Kong bishop and an outspoken democracy advocate who`s frequently critical of Beijing, was among the early voters on Sunday. Zen told reporters Hong Kong`s lack of democracy was at the root of problems like a big rich-poor gap and the government`s pro-business bent.

"People`s lives won`t improve without a democratic system," he said. "I hope everyone will come out today and take advantage of this opportunity to express our anger peacefully."

The referendum campaign, however, has drawn mixed responses. Independent polls have consistently shown more opponents than supporters.

Technician Tim Lau said he planned to cast his ballot because "the power of a vote is far greater than staging demonstrations."

"The government should acknowledge Hong Kong people`s desire for true democracy," the 35-year-old said.

Bureau Report