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Democrats Retain Power of Veto in Hong Kong Elections

Hong Kong's pro-democracy politicians have won enough seats in Sunday's legislative elections to hold onto the bloc's key veto power. The result came despite predictions of heavy losses for the democrats. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.

The pro-democracy opposition won 23 seats in Hong Kong's 60-member Legislative Council. This means that the democratic camp will retain its veto power on constitutional matters in the legislature. Several key democracy activists, such as Emily Lau and Leung Kwok-hung, better known as "Longhair", kept their seats.

While the democrats won two fewer seats than in the last election in 2004, the outcome for the opposition was better than expected. Political analysts had predicted the pro-democracy team would suffer a major setback after Beijing promised people in Hong Kong some form of universal suffrage by 2017. The announcement took a lot of momentum out of the debate over democratic reforms in the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997.

While a record number of candidates competed in the election, just 45 percent of the voters cast ballots, compared with 56 percent in 2004.

Ma Ngok, a political analyst at Hong Kong's Chinese University, says that unlike four years ago, no pressing issues were being addressed this year, accounting for the lower voter turnout.

"I think the campaign issue is a lot different this year because 2004 the campaign was all about universal suffrage," Ma said. "But this year I think most people are focusing on economic and livelihood issues. If this is the case most political parties fail to offer different party platforms on these issues. So it seems that they fail to interest the electorate as a whole.

Pro-Beijing politicians, led by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, remain the dominant power in the legislative council, with 37 seats.

One conservative group, the pro-business Liberal Party suffered a blow, however. The party's chairman James Tien and vice chairwoman Selina Chow both lost their seats. Tien resigned his party position.

Ivan Choy, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the disappointing results for the Liberals were caused by public sentiment against the business sector.

"There is an anti-business atmosphere and sentiment during the elections because of the inflation and many people complain that the inflation is because of the businessmen who increase their price rather than it can be accounted by imported inflation," Choy said. "But there are some internal factors that some businessmen try to inflate their price in order to make larger profits."

Voters in Hong Kong can only pick half of the territory's lawmakers. The remaining 30 are chosen by special-interest groups such as real estate developers, accountants and doctors. The city's top official, the chief executive, is selected by a group of about 800 people, who are approved by Beijing.