China Downplays Anti-Beijing Vote in Hong Kong Elections

Article excerpt

HONG Kong's voters have given liberals a landslide victory over candidates backed by Communist China in the first direct legislative elections in the 150-year history of the British colony.

Liberals, represented by the main pro-democracy party, United Democrats of Hong Kong, and allied groups, took 16 of the 18 Legislative Council seats in Sunday's elections.

But the defeat of all pro-Beijing candidates is likely to galvanize China's opposition to calls for a broadening of direct elections in Hong Kong, which reverts to Chinese rule in 1997.

Moreover, the lower-than-expected turnout of 39 percent of Hong Kong's 1.9 million registered voters could hamper efforts by Britain to renegotiate the number of directly elected seats with China. The showing represented only a fifth of Hong Kong's 3.8 million eligible voters, half of whom registered.

China's chief representative in Hong Kong called the turnout "too low." Zhou Nan, director of the Hong Kong branch of the New China News Agency, said it indicated Hong Kong citizens want a slower "step-by-step" pace of democratization. On the eve of the elections, Beijing denounced any attempts before 1997 to alter the composition of the Legislative Council as set down in the Basic Law, China's mini-constitution for Hong Kong.

China's officials in Hong Kong have worked vigorously to promote candidates sympathetic to Beijing's hard-line leadership. As early as last November, China indicated its desire to influence the elections by publicly backing the territory's first conservative business party, the Liberal Democratic Federation (LDF).

Beijing's political activism is in line with a new Communist Party directive ordering Chinese officials here to groom "patriotic" candidates for the Legislative Council and other district boards, say Hong Kong sources with links to pro-China groups.

The directive also calls for the active, secret recruitment of Communist Party members in the territory. Party members must conceal their status and links with party branches operating in the territory, say the sources, who are familiar with party recruiting methods. …