Pro-Beijing parties in Hong Kong trounced the opposition as voters in the Chinese territory expressed discontent with pro-democratic parties in local elections that may predict the outcome of more important polls next year.
Results from Sunday's poll were released early Monday for individual candidates in the neighborhood council elections but the government did not immediately provide a breakdown by political party.
Candidates from two major parties backed by the central government in China won 124 of 336 contested seats while the two biggest pro-democracy parties lost ground, garnering only 53 seats, the parties said.
While district councilors wield little power, analysts say the outcome could foreshadow a tougher struggle for pro-democracy candidates in legislative elections next year, which could make it harder to move toward a fuller democracy.
"If the democrats are losing the elections they kind of lose their legitimacy in terms of the whole democracy movement, so it will be a more difficult fight for them," said Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
About 1.2 million, or 41.4 percent of the 2.9 million people registered to vote, casting ballots for 839 candidates in Sunday's election, higher than the 38.5 percent in the last district council elections in 2007. Another 76 candidates were returned unopposed.
The big winner was the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, which won 100 seats while the Federation of Trade Unions won 24. In the pro-democracy camp, the Democratic party won 46 contested seats while the Civic Party won seven.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, is a special administrative region of China with its own political system and a high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong's mini-constitution promises eventual democracy and Western-style civil liberties commonly denied in the mainland.
The current 60-member Legislative Council is half-elected and half chosen by professional and business sectors, many of whom are loyal to Beijing. Next year, the legislature will add 10 more elected seats under a set of limited changes that were approved last year with the help of the Democratic Party.
The deal fractured the democratic camp, with some hardline lawmakers calling it a betrayal and forming their own small parties, which may have split Sunday's vote and driven some voters to pro-Beijing candidates.