Hong Kong Democrats Win Elections, Not Power

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When is an election victory not an election victory? Answer: When the vote takes place under Hong Kong's Basic Law, that barely democratized constitution drawn up when China took over the shop. The Democratic Party, led by media-friendly Martin Lee, won a crushing victory Tuesday in the former colony's first free elections since the handover, with more than 43 percent of the vote. Yet when the Democrats walk triumphantly back into the ruling Legco -- where they were turfed out last July -- they'll find themselves with a toothless 13 percent of the seats. Thanks to Beijing's system of "functional" constituencies, two-thirds of the assembly was chosen by fewer than a hundred thousand "professional" voters.

Still, Lee did spectacularly well -- not only in beating off the kowtowing Liberal Party, but helping to coax out three times the expected number of voters. Now Lee is pressing his moral mandate hard: "We will do our best to push for full democracy in the next elections in the year 2000," he told the South China Morning Post. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is unlikely to budge from the Basic Law blueprint -- that is, eight years till full democracy. Tung isn't in any hurry -- and no wonder. In most democracies, he'd be out of a job today.