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Pro-Democracy Leader Wins Hong Kong's By-Election

The former head of Hong Kong's civil service, Anson Chan, has won a hotly contested by-election for a seat in the city's legislature, in a vote widely seen as a referendum on democratic reform. Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

In one of the most closely watched elections since the territory was returned to China a decade ago, Anson Chan secured nearly 55 percent of the vote. Her pro-Beijing opponent, Regina Ip, won 43-percent.

Eight candidates had been vying for a seat left vacant by the recent death of Ma Lik, chairman of Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party.

The pro-democracy win is not likely to affect decision-making in Hong Kong's legislative council. But it does give a huge boost to pro-democracy supporters campaigning for universal suffrage in the territory.

After her win, Chan told supporters the results prove that people in Hong Kong are anxious to push forward with democracy.

"I entered this by-election with a deep commitment to the democratic process. I was well aware that it would be no walk over," she said. "I am all the more delighted, therefore, that at the end of the day, so many Hong Kong people chose to vote with their heart."

Voter turnout was much greater than expected, at around 52 percent. Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong, says many voters were concerned about the strength of the pro-Beijing camp.

"There was a concern that the pro-Beijing camp has been cultivating a very powerful electoral machinery," he said. "And to counter this very powerful machinery, people had to come out to vote and to achieve a high voter turnout rate."

Political activism in Hong Kong's push for democracy has waned in recent years, and Cheng says many voters wanted to remind Beijing of its promise to eventually grant the territory universal suffrage.

"And people in Hong Kong also want to send a message to the international community, to Beijing and to the Hong Kong government that to perceive that if the Hong Kong economy improved people would forget about democracy, was definitely a wrong perception," Cheng added.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution says the territory is guaranteed universal suffrage. But officials in Beijing have been reluctant to set a timeline. So far, only half of the city's legislators are directly elected, and the chief executive is selected by a committee of 800 people, most of whom support the government in Beijing.

Chan made a name for herself as the first female head of the civil service under British rule. She has embraced the pro-democracy supporters' push for Hong Kong's chief executive and all legislators to be directly elected by 2012.