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Hong Kong Votes for New Legislators - 2004-09-12

Kong residents have voted Sunday in key legislative elections that highlight local demands for greater democracy.

A record 3.2 million voters registered for Sunday's election, one seen by many analysts as a referendum on Hong Kong's relationship with Beijing and demands for political reform.

Exit polls suggest pro-democracy candidates could win up to 60 percent of the popular vote. But because of Hong Kong's complex electoral system, pro-Beijing and pro-business parties will likely retain control of the legislature.

There are 60 seats up for grabs on Sunday. Ordinary voters select 30, but special interest groups representing businesses and professionals choose the rest.

Early voters Sunday expressed frustration with the system. Edward Chen, 68, says he questions the legitimacy of the vote.

"The difficulty is, do you call this kind of election a democracy? I think it's difficult," he said. "Do you really find that as a result you have a better government than before?"

The two main camps in the election are the Pro-Beijing parties and the pro-democracy parties. Pro-Beijing candidates want slow and steady political reform, with an emphasis on economic growth and social stability.

Democratic candidates are campaigning for direct elections and universal suffrage for the small capitalist territory that returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 - but with a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

In April, China's Communist leaders ruled out direct elections for the legislature and chief executive in Hong Kong until after 2008.

That decision sparked widespread resentment in Hong Kong and hundreds of thousands of people turned out for a pro-democracy rally in July.

First time voter Amy Leung says Beijing's decision inspired her to participate in Sunday's elections.

"This year, after July, I think I have to come out and vote for someone who really represents me," she said.

Democrats may capture 23 to 28 seats, more than they control now and enough to press Hong Kong's Beijing-appointed leader for greater reforms.

Nevertheless, the number falls short of the more than 30 needed for the simple majority they hoped to win.