Hong Kong pro-democracy camp suffers election setback

Pro-Beijing candidates

Hong Kong's controversial by-elections come on the day the Chinese Communist Party chose to give President Xi Jinping a mandate to rule for life, intensifying fears that Hong Kong's freedoms would come increasingly under threat.

Hong Kong pro-democracy candidates won two of the four seats contested in Sunday's by-election for the city's semi-democratic legislature. Two remaining empty seats will be decided later because they're the subject of ongoing legal action.

A turnout of 43 percent, far less than the 58 percent for full legislative council polls two years ago, suggested votes could have become worn out with the democrats' struggle.

"This is a terribly depressing day for the democratic development of Hong Kong", political analyst Willy Lam said.

Yiu secured 105,060 votes, while Cheng - who belongs to the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) party - received 107,479 ballots in his favor. He was enlisted at the last moment after officials disqualified the pro-democracy camp's marquee candidate, 21-year-old Agnes Chow, because she advocated for Hong Kongers to determine their own future.

Hong Kong by-elections were held on March 11, with pro-democracy candidates unable to regain all of their lost seats after the disqualification of pro-democracy legislators a year ago, following their refusal to take an oath of loyalty to authorities in Beijing.

That means the democrats have bolstered their ability to block some important bills, which require two thirds to pass.

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However, they will continue to be outgunned on the majority of bills which require a lower threshold, as they have failed to regain the veto power they lost due to the disqualifications.

Over the past two decades, however, tensions have simmered and occasionally boiled over with activists pushing in vain for full democracy amidst opposition from Beijing.

The vote came as China's National People's Congress voted to abolish constitutional term limits, leaving democracy supporters in Hong Kong more anxious about diminishing autonomy under the potentially indefinite rule of Xi Jinping.

In the vote's main battleground, little known activist Au Nok-hin, a neighborhood councilor, is competing against pro-Beijing rival Judy Chan.

Suzanne Pepper, a Hong Kong-based writer and academic, says that while she has not seen a breakdown of the vote, she suspects younger, pro-democracy voters did not cast ballots "because they feel their dream of building a democratic system within the Chinese state is dead".

The six lawmakers ousted from the legislature included former protest leaders and independence activists. About half of the council's seats are chosen by mainly pro-Beijing business and trade groups.

Some voters hoped a legislature weighted more toward the pro-Beijing establishment would help on livelihood issues, but others were anxious about rule of law in the territory. The two were among a wave of young activists who emerged from the massive but inconclusive 2014 "Umbrella Movement" demonstrations against Beijing's plans to restrict elections for Hong Kong's top leader.

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