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Democrat Wins Election in Hong Kong
Anson Chan to fill hotly contested Legislative Council seat
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2007-12-04 03:54 (KST)   
Sunday saw two of the most notorious women in Hong Kong's recent history going head-to-head in a by-election for a hotly contested seat in the Legislative Council. It was a clash of the titans, the former security chief Regina Ip, the starlet for the pro-Beijing faction, versus Anson Chan, a former chief secretary and the democrat's lucky charm.

Chan, "the conscience of Hong Kong," has won. "The result of this election indicates that Hong Kong people are anxious to put forward democracy. We think we're all ready to implement universal suffrage in 2012," Chan said on hearing of her election win.

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The election was to fill a seat left vacant after former chairman of the pro-Beijing DAB (Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong) party, Ma Lik, died in August. The term is only for the remaining nine months of his term, at which time territory-wide Legislative Council elections will take place.

The contest was widely seen as a referendum on universal suffrage. Regina Ip was the underdog from the outset. She resigned in 2003 after her disastrous handling of Article 23, the proposed security legislation that pushed 500,000 people into the streets in protest and eventually led to the downfall of former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in March of 2005.

Democrats Gaining an Upper Hand?

While Chan may have won, it was not by the margin many expected and her victory shouldn't be construed as the democrats gaining an upper hand in the territory. Far from it.

Hong Kong has been experiencing a deluge of free choices lately. In district council elections that just wrapped up over a week ago, the democratic camp, known collectively as the "pan-democrats," had the stuffing kicked out of them. They lost a large proportion of their seats to pro-Beijing candidates and this alone should have mobilized the pan-democrats to come out in droves to support Chan yesterday. But while the turnout was higher than in previous elections, it didn't manifest itself into a large amount of support for Chan.

Muddled Leadership

So what gives? Why does the electorate seem so conflicted, voting against the democrats one week and for them the next?

It suggests that Chief Executive Donald Tsang, Beijing's proxy, has succeeded in slowing any momentum for constitutional reform with his labyrinthine proposals. Rather than take the initiative as he has promised, Tsang has fobbed off the question of universal suffrage by taking none. This has played nicely into Beijing's overall strategy of stalling on democracy and blurring the lines between candidates.

Another factor lies in the make-up of the system. The terms "pan-democrat" and "pro-Beijing" are misleading, especially in the case of the former. The pan-democrats are far from united and suffer from the same problem that afflicts many "alternative" political organizations around the world. When members include a Che Guevara-clad street protester and a former Cartier board member visions often collide. This has led to predictable divisions and a fragmented public message. As a result, the pan-democrats are desperate and have found their support dwindling. People are fed up, but they are no longer convinced the pan-democrats have the answers.

Competing Aspirations

The democratic camp is, well, what a democracy should be like. It lacks coherency. It's loud and full of contrary opinions. Founding Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee appears to have given up on Hong Kong preferring to make appeals to the international community to apply pressure on Beijing for democracy. Labor tries to push for bread and butter issues but finds itself competing with the DAB's questionable network of so-called "contacts" and funding; and even Long Hair (activist Leung Kwok-hung), once the darling of outspoken protest, has dulled into a lackluster provocateur on the sidelines.

The pro-Beijing faction has it a little easier -- fear unites all the cadres. No one wants to upset or be seen upsetting the Middle Kingdom. This has unified their theme of "harmony" and secured growing support. When your people have a direct line to Beijing certain things -- from the potholes outside your estate to the paperwork for your relative's visa -- get done.

As Chan's victory illustrates, Hong Kong people haven't yet abandoned their aspirations for universal suffrage -- but what will occur in nine short months when her term expires is another question.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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