Donald Tsang and his cabinet refuse to vote in the by-election

By MIN LEE (AP)     May 15, 2010

(HONG KONG) Five Hong Kong democracy activists made a final appeal to voters Saturday before a special election they triggered as an attempt to pressure Beijing to make political reforms in this former British colony.

Beijing opposes Sunday's election as a challenge to its authority, and Hong Kong's leader said he and his senior officials won't vote in the contest.

Hong Kong financial district Hong Kong financial district
Supporters of the five Hong Kong opposition legislators who resigned in January, attend election campaign rally in Hong Kong Friday May 14, 2010. When the five Hong Kong opposition legislators representing the territory's major districts resigned, hoped to engineer a face-off against Beijing loyalists, sparking a huge turnout that puts democracy back on China's agenda. Instead, this Sunday they are running for their old seats against unknown candidates amid little voter interest, left with a campaign that critics say is meaningless and won't sway Beijing in the least. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The five activists, former legislators representing each of Hong Kong's five major electoral districts, resigned from their seats in January. Their plan was to engineer a special election where they would compete against pro-Beijing candidates, effectively setting up a de facto territory-wide referendum on democracy.

But with the Chinese government questioning the campaign, Beijing loyalists in Hong Kong decided to boycott the election. As a result, the five activists are expected to easily win against a smattering of unknown candidates. Now, the focus has shifted to voter turnout.

Political analysts say turnout will be low because of the pro-China boycott. But the five former lawmakers say that if their base, which they estimate at 25 percent of Hong Kong's 3.4 million registered voters, turns out to vote, they will consider the campaign a success.

"That would be a mandate," Albert Chan, one of the five legislators who resigned, said on the sidelines of a rally late Friday.

The activists received a boost Saturday from Anson Chan, formerly Hong Kong's No. 2 official and one of the territory's most popular politicians. Chan, dubbed by supporters as "Hong Kong's conscience," campaigned with ex-legislator Tanya Chan on Hong Kong Island.

"If we don't want Hong Kong to become a city where free expression is muzzled, if we don't want to suffer from intimidation, we must exercise our votes tomorrow and send the government a clear message," Anson Chan said.

The activists want full democracy in Hong Kong. As part of its semi-autonomous status under Chinese rule, Hong Kong enjoys Western-style civil liberties, but its leader is chosen by an 800-member committee with a pro-Beijing bias. The 60-member legislature is half-elected, half-chosen by interest groups, many of whom represent the business sector.

About 1,000 supporters attended the rally late Friday, blowing whistles and chanting slogans like "I want universal suffrage" and "The people raise their heads." They sang along with a performance of John Lennon's "Power to the People."

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang announced in a statement released late Friday that he and his top political appointees, including cabinet secretaries and deputy secretaries, won't vote in the by-election. Tsang said he believes that many residents consider the poll unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Anson Chan blasted Tsang for skipping the election.

"I've never heard of a political leader leading the boycott of a legally organized election," she said.