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Hong Kong voters brave rain for historic elections

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Rescue workers round up hundreds whose homes were flooded in remote areas  
May 24, 1998
Web posted at: 12:25 p.m. EDT (1625 GMT)

HONG KONG (CNN) -- Despite torrential rains, voter turnout was high Sunday for Hong Kong's legislative elections -- the first multi-party vote in a region of communist China.

Exit polls indicated that the Democrats and their allies would win about 60 percent of the 20 seats that were to be directly elected. Martin Lee's Democratic Party was tipped to win nine seats; other pro-democracy groups and candidates stood to gain three or four seats as well.

A radio report said up to 1,000 people had been stranded by floodwaters in Hong Kong's rural New Territories. Officials reported 47 people had been evacuated by helicopter and that firemen used boats to evacuate another 66 people, eight of whom were slightly injured and taken to hospitals.

Despite the flooding, more than 1.3 million people, or 49 percent of registered voters, had cast ballots for the new 60-seat legislative council that will replace the temporary Beijing-appointed body. That was well above a 35.8 percent turnout in the last election under British rule in 1995.

The Hong Kong Observatory said more than 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain had fallen in some areas near the boundary with the Chinese mainland.

Some of the heaviest rain seen in Hong Kong this year aroused fears that voters would be deterred from venturing to the 496 polling stations manned by 13,000 civil servants.

voting
Voters brave the storm to elect a new 60 seat legislative council for the first time under Chinese rule  

Government officials, hoping for a strong turnout, urged the public to brave the storms.

"I would like to appeal to everybody to come and vote," said Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive.

"Despite the somewhat bad weather, for everyone to come and vote to exercise your right to vote."

Nonetheless, the rain disrupted voting in some polling places. One was closed because of chest-high water. In another, staff stood on chairs to keep dry and voters waded in knee-deep water to cast their votes.

The Democratic Party in Hong Kong

Martin Lee of the Democratic Party and other pro-democracy figures were expected to win seats in the 60-member Legislative Council, or Legco. They were forced out of the elected body that was disbanded as Britain handed over its colony last July.

polling

Only 20 of the seats in the new Legco are directly elected, and Lee and his colleagues are expected to be a minority on the council, outnumbered by China-friendly members.

"This is a most important day in the history of modern China, because this is the first time there is some element of democratic elections, one third of the seats, which will be democratically elected by Chinese people on Chinese soil," Lee said.

"We must remember that there are still 1.2 billion of our compatriots on mainland China who are still denied their right to vote," added Lee, who was once denounced by Beijing as a subversive for his criticism of China.

 
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Hong Kong Special Section
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