More than a majority of voters turn out at polls
With more than a third of seats won, pan-democrats still hold veto power
Election comes a day after Hong Kong dropped national education requirement
Pro-Beijing camp benefited from infighting among pan-democrats, professor says
Two days after Hong Kong’s chief executive relented to protesters’ demands to drop a controversial Chinese education requirement, pro-democracy legislators Monday got a boost from a majority turnout at the polls.
More than 1.8 million people – or 53% of registered voters – turned out at the polls Sunday, and pan-democrats won more directly elected seats than the pro-Beijing camp, as well as three of the five so-called super seats.
However, pro-Beijing legislators still maintained their dominance at the Legislative Council, thanks to infighting among the pan-democratic factions – and a system that combines direct and indirect voting via special interest groups.
Under Hong Kong’s political system, 35 seats are elected directly by the public (“geographic constituencies”) and 35 by groups based on professions (“functional constituencies”), most of which lean pro-Beijing.
In a new complex “one person-two votes” arrangement, voters can cast ballots not just within their geographic constituency but also for a list of candidates vying in a “super lawmaker” functional constituency.
With 27 – or more than a third – of the 70 seats won Monday, pan-democrats will still wield veto power and can block constitutional changes.
The election comes on the heels of a 10-day hunger strike to protest “Moral and National Education,” a curriculum that critics likened to “brainwashing” with Chinese propaganda. On Saturday, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung said the decision to teach it would be left to schools.
While the emotionally charged education issue led to higher turnout at the polls, the pro-Beijing camp benefited from split votes among the pan-democrats, thanks to bitterness within the coalition over 2010 electoral reforms, one political observer said.
The radical People Power group had called on supporters to cast blank ballots as a form of protest against pan-democratic parties that sided with the government on the reform package, arguing that it stymied Hong Kong’s path to a full democracy, according to the South China Morning Post.
By noon Monday local time, Albert Ho had resigned as leader of the Democratic Party after a poor showing in the elections, even though he was among the lists of candidates that won “super lawmaker” seats.
“Pro-democracy voters went for parties that didn’t have that kind of bitterness between them,” said Michael DeGolyer, a professor of government at Hong Kong Baptist University and director of the Hong Kong Transition Project. Among the beneficiaries in the elections were the Civic Party and the new Labor Party, which represent the interests of labor, unionists and populists committed to social programs, he said.
“I don’t think we’ll have progress on the pro-democracy front for a while,” DeGolyer said. He predicted that Leung may find himself trying to build capital with legislators who are more welfare-oriented and with voters fed up with corruption scandals that dogged his predecessor, Donald Tsang.
The elections are the fifth since Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed over to China in 1997 and became a special administrative region under a “one country, two systems” model.
CNN’s Tim Schwarz contributed to this report.