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Hong Kong Votes for Stable Relations with Beijing - 2004-09-13

Pro-democracy candidates made slight gains in Hong Kong's legislative elections, but fell short of expectations. Sunday's vote was widely seen as a referendum on Hong Kong's relationship with Beijing, and the final results failed to reveal any major shift in public opinion.

Some 1.8 million people voted Sunday, and pro-democracy candidates picked up three seats in Hong Kong's 60-member legislature. The winners included a local activist best known for his long hair and strident criticism of China's communist leaders.

But the democrats fell short of the majority they had hoped for, meaning they will still have little power to affect legislation.

Pro-Beijing and pro-business parties meanwhile did better than expected. Analysts said many voters appeared reluctant to upset the status quo, and supported candidates who called for stable relations with Beijing.

A major issue was the pace of democratic reform in the former British colony. Public opinion is in favor of a quick transition to full democracy. But in April, Beijing responded to public demands by ruling out fully-democratic elections for at least another seven years.

Christine Loh is a leading political analyst in Hong Kong. She says the democrats' campaign message was not clear enough. "So far they have been criticized, for good reason, of not having been clear about their policies, not being [a] worthy opposition, so I think these are areas where they can do considerably better," she says.

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed chief executive, Tung Che Hwa, has had a difficult relationship with the legislature, especially with the pro-democracy bloc. He spoke to reporters Sunday as he went to cast his vote. Mr. Tung says he hopes to improve his relationship with the legislature in order to build a better Hong Kong and improve the economy.

Democrats say their showing Sunday was affected by a series of sexual and financial scandals that emerged last month. The democrats accused Beijing of manipulating those cases to influence Sunday's election.

Beijing denied the charge.