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Pro-Beijing alliance gains in HK polls

Hong Kong, Sept. 10: Pro-democracy candidates won strong voter support in legislative elections here, but failed to capture some key seats because pro-Beijing political parties with greater financial resources proved more skillful in navigating Hong Kong’s complex electoral system.

Pro-democracy groups appeared today to have narrowly retained at least one-third of the seats in the new Legislature, the proportion they need to block fundamental changes in the territory’s laws.

Voters thronged to polling stations across Hong Kong yesterday, a day after the local government backed down from a plan to introduce mandatory pro- Beijing patriotic education in the territory’s schools.

Pro-democracy candidates won some votes at the expense of pro-Beijing candidates and independents, who had tried to emphasise economic issues. Discussions of international competitiveness or the minimum wage were swamped in the last days of the campaign by the acrimonious education issue and the difficult questions of national identity that it raised for Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

But Hong Kong has a complex system of multiple-seat geographic constituencies, in which voters choose slates of candidates. A “closed list” system of counting votes makes it relatively easy for the first person listed on each slate to be elected, but very hard for second and subsequent candidates on each slate to gain seats.

The pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong used this arrangement to its advantage, running multiple slates in election districts across Hong Kong and using its formidable logistical network to guide tens of thousands of supporters to vote for one or another of its slates. As a result, the party won a series of seats for its top-of-the-slate candidates despite a weak overall vote count.

In an interview after votes had been counted for half the seats in the Legislature, Tam Yiu-chung, the party’s chairman, denied suggestions by democracy advocates that his party had been heavily subsidised by Beijing.

Tam also denied accusations that his party had taken elderly people to the polls yesterday and had unfairly offered them various incentives to vote for the party’s candidates.

Tam said that his party had relied on local fund-raising and that “the elderly people support DAB because they want stability”.

The poorly financed Civic Party, lacking a grass-roots network to guide its supporters, ran a single slate in each constituency and tried to persuade as many voters as possible to vote for them.

The party’s best known politician, Audrey Eu, and its rising star, Tanya Chan, listed themselves second on slates in the New Territories West constituency and Hong Kong Island respectively. Both ended up losing their seats.

Their slates were the biggest vote-getters by wide margins, gaining more than 70,000 votes in each case, compared with fewer than 45,000 votes for the next-best slate. But they still did not garner enough votes for either woman to be elected.

Chan said in an interview after her defeat that the party could not have done anything differently.

“It’s quite difficult for us to estimate the supporters,” she said. “You can see that the infrastructure built by the pro-establishment camp worked professionally.”

 
 
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