The leader of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party has stepped down after the party performed poorly in the country’s legislative elections, despite a high turnout and strong support for full democracy.
Despite the poor showing, election results on Monday gave the pro-democracy camp the “critical minority” it needs to veto constitutional amendments before a crucial debate about universal suffrage in the coming four-year term of the legislature.
The results mean the Civic Party with five seats, up from four previously, overtakes the Democratic Party as the biggest pro-democracy party in the legislature, with almost all the votes counted.
Official results showed that the Democracy Party won only four seats, down from eight, in the new 70-seat assembly, prompting Albert Ho, chairman, to offer an emotional apology to the party faithful, according to AFP news agency.
“For the serious failure in this election I have to accept full political responsibility as the chairman of the Democratic Party,” he said after bowing before the television cameras at a press conference.
He attributed the party’s poor performance in Sunday’s vote to a split in the democratic camp and the popularity of radical candidates, not to a fall in support for democracy.
“In the recent months the general public has become increasingly impatient and even very angry with the existing administration,” Ho said, after weeks of protests over an unpopular education policy.
“I think a lot of voters have decided to choose some people who … play a much more aggressive role in the Legislative Council.”
In Sunday’s election, 40 of the 70 seats on the Hong Kong Legislative Council were decided by voters, and those were split fairly evenly between the two sides, according to results released by election officials.
Pro-democratic candidates won 21 seats – 18 seats in the local districts and three more so-called “super seats” open to nearly all voters across the city.
Pro-Beijing rivals won 19 seats – 17 local seats and two super seats.
But another 30 seats on the council were chosen by members of business and special interest groups known as “functional constituencies,” most of which are dominated by pro-Beijing figures.
Results showed that pro-democracy candidates won only six of those seats.
Test of popularity
On the pro-Beijing side, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong is the biggest force with at least 12 seats.
The election was seen as a test of popular support for the pro-Beijing government, and by extension for the mainland authorities’ hold on the city 15 years after the former colony was handed over by Britain.
Voters, many driven by anti-Beijing sentiment, thronged to vote for a new legislature, a day after Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, backed down from a plan for compulsory patriotic Chinese education in schools, which drew tens of thousands of people to a 10-day protest.
Many thought that the government’s perceived pro-China policies would lead to support for the pro-democratic party.
A higher voter turnout – 53 per cent of 3.4 million registered voters cast their ballots, up from 45.2 per cent in the last election in 2008 - was expected to benefit the opposition pro-democracy camp.
But deep divisions across pro-democracy political parties and the lack of a broad, coordinated strategy seem to have allowed better mobilised pro-Beijing, pro-establishment parties to hold their ground despite the tide of discontent.
China has promised universal suffrage for the next leadership election in 2017, and by 2020 for the legislature, but democrats are preparing for a fight amid fears the mainland will try to veto the candidates.
Analysts say Hong Kong’s complicated electoral system makes it difficult for the democratic bloc to translate strong public backing for full democracy into legislative power.
Executive power rests with a chief executive who is appointed by a “small circle” of 1,200 people, including business tycoons with vested interests in mainland China.