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Election blow for HK Democrats

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Hong Kong's main pro-democracy candidates made few gains in legislative elections.

Legislative elections seen as a referendum on Chinese rule.
Hong Kong
Beijing (China)

HONG KONG, China -- Hong Kong's main pro-democracy candidates have made disappointing gains in legislative elections, adding just three seats to their tally.

In Sunday's vote, pro-democracy candidates won 25 out of 60 seats, falling short of expectations.

Meanwhile, pro-Beijing politicians won 34 seats, the same as the last election, in a bigger- than-expected victory.

Observers had expected more of a swing to pro-democracy camps after Hong Kong was rocked by two massive protests against Chinese rule in as many years.

An independent candidate won the remaining seat. Prior to Sunday's election, independents held four seats in the legislature.

Democratic Party leader Yeung Sum confirmed Monday he was formally calling for a partial recount.

Of the 60 seats up for grabs, 30 are directly elected, with the others chosen by powerful special interest groups, typically loyal to Beijing.

In its first reaction to the weekend poll, China did not comment on the modest gains by pro-democracy candidates but did say it showed the people of the territory were "masters of their own house."

In a statement, China's policymaking Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office urged newly elected members "to be loyal to their oaths ... and make contributions to the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong."

The elections were the "most democratic" based on Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the statement said.

Earlier, former chairman of the Democratic Party Martin Lee said the apparent inability of Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp to make substantial gains in the elections was disappointing and reflected the inadequacy of the system.

The turnout was unusually high at 55.6 percent.

A record 3.2 million voters were registered to take part in the vote, seen as a referendum on Chinese rule and a test of strength for the democracy movement.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was hand-picked by Beijing and is strongly allied to the Chinese leadership.

The pro-democracy movement has angered China by demanding universal suffrage in the territory Beijing took back from Britain in 1997.

Hong Kong was given a high degree of autonomy when it was handed over to China under the "one country, two systems" formula after 150 years of British rule.

But Chinese authorities have ruled out universal suffrage and the election of a chief executive over the former British colony in the near term.

The legislative chamber has been dominated by pro-China members since the handover.

Analysts say any change would dilute Beijing's control over the city, possibly paralyzing legislation.

Sunday's election has been tarnished by charges of Chinese dirty tricks and scandals dogging politicians, the most damaging involving a Democratic Party member arrested in south China and detained for six months for hiring a prostitute.

To prevent intimidation, curtains were removed from polling booths after reports voters had come under pressure to use mobile phone cameras to photograph their ballot to prove how they voted.

"I voted for Emily and the rest of the democrats on that list and I hope they will fight for what I want, which is universal suffrage," said postgraduate student Kim Yip-lo, 30, referring to veteran democracy activist Emily Lau.

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