Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Monday, 17 May 2010 06:49 UK

Hong Kong activists win back seats in by-election

By Anne-Marie Evans
BBC News, Hong Kong

Re-elected Legislative Council members celebrate in Hong Kong (16 May 2010)
The candidates said the results showed Hong Kong cared about democracy

Five candidates who resigned from Hong Kong's Legislative Council in January have won back their seats.

The group resigned in January to fight a by-election and force a discussion on the slow pace of democratisation.

The opposition pro-Beijing parties refused to take part as did the main Democratic Party, and the others were little-known candidates.

The poll angered Beijing and was heavily criticised in Hong Kong as a waste of taxpayers' money.

The result, amid a record low turnout, came as no surprise.

The 17% turn-out in Hong Kong's by-election on Sunday was way below the 30% the five main candidates wanted.

But they still toasted their victory, saying 500,000 of the city's people had voted to show they cared about democracy.

China angered

But others saw the result differently.

As far as the pro-Beijing parties and government figures were concerned, it was a waste of taxpayers' money, had unnecessarily incurred Beijing's wrath, and showed that the Hong Kong public preferred more moderate discussions with the Chinese government.

The city's leader, Chief Executive Donald Tsang, refused to vote in the poll, as did other government leaders.

While he is normally seen going to Mass, on Sunday Mr Tsang was not seen at all.

In fact, the only senior figure to openly support the by-election was Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen.

But what is not so clear is what the political fall-out of the by-election will be.

The more radical democrats from these two smaller parties may need to come back into the fold and take a more moderate approach to gradual electoral reform.

Currently Hong Kong's chief executive is elected by a select committee of 800 people handpicked by Beijing.

Only half of the legislative council is directly elected. Some political scientists feel the government needs to allow more consultation with Hong Kong's youth, some of whom are disgruntled with the lack of a democratic voting system.

Meanwhile, one Hong Kong newspaper has reported that Democratic Party leaders could soon be having face to face meetings with senior government officials in Beijing.

If so, it will be the first time since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

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