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Hong Kong Prepares for Sunday Election - 2003-11-21

Hong Kong residents are going to the polls Sunday, in the first elections since half a million people took to the streets to protest the territory's Beijing-backed government and its policies. Many new candidates are pitching for votes by calling for greater democracy.

Four months ago, Hong Kong's administration was thrown into turmoil by protesters calling for the resignation of its Beijing-backed leader, Tung Chee-Hwa, and an end to vaguely worded anti-subversion legislation many said threatened basic freedoms.

Opinion polls showed that anti-government sentiment remained high even after two unpopular ministers resigned and the anti-subversion bill was dropped.

Kenneth Cheung, 28, who is running for a council seat in Sunday's district elections, believes Hong Kong voters are ready to hear his pro-democracy message.

He says Hong Kong's July protests made him reflect on China's unsuccessful student-led pro-democracy movement in 1989, which ended in bloodshed in and around Tiananmen Square.

"After July 1, I remember the mission from June 4 1989, we need to continue our voice and fight for democracy for different ways," he said.

Mr. Cheung feels Hong Kong - as part of China - should set an example by becoming a fully democratic city. He wants residents to have the right to directly elect their next leader. Now, a special committee made up of big business and pro-Beijing interests appoints the leader.

However, the largest pro-China party, called the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, fears its staunch support of Mr. Tung may have scared away supporters.

But Jonathan Chan, a 25-year-old candidate running under the DAB banner, is not worried. He says pro-democracy politicians fail to tackle what matters most to voters. He intends to focus on noise pollution and a lack of transportation in his district.

He is confident he will win over his pro-democracy rival.

"I am trying my best to make my district better and better," said Jonathan Chan. "In my district the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong is the greatest party to do the real things - not just some slogans."

District councilors typically preside over community issues like garbage collection and social welfare programs. They have little influence on lawmaking.

However, political analysts suggest that Mr. Tung's administration could be further weakened if the pro-China parties lose seats in these elections.