Hong Kong's pro-democracy parties have won more than one third of seats in weekend elections, retaining the key power to veto legislation in the city's legislature.

上海性息

The groups won 23 of the 60 seats up for grabs in the Legislative Council following the poll billed as a key test for pro-democracy parties in the former British colony in the face of growing Chinese patriotism.

The parties had expressed fears they would slip below the crucial number of 21 seats – losing the ability to veto government legislation, which they successfully used in 2005 to block controversial constitutional reforms.

Hong Kong was promised universal suffrage for both its legislature and chief executive when Britain handed back the territory to China in 1997, but no specific timetable was set.

Only 30 of the 60 legislative seats were being chosen by the city's 3.37 million registered electors in Sunday's poll.

The remaining 30 “functional constituencies” represent various business and industry interests chosen by select electorates.

Little change

Of the 23 seats won by the pro-democrats, 19 seats belong to the directly-elected geographical constituencies, while four seats were returned from the “functional constituencies.”

Their biggest rival, the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, retained about 10 seats in the council.

“The results do not change the current political landscape a lot,” said Ivan Choy, a political commentator at Chinese University. “But the pro-democratic politician's support rate among voters has dropped from 60 to 50 percent, and this is something they should have a think about.”

At the last election in 2004, the democrats managed to grab 25 seats.

But the election also threw up some surprising results. The League of Social Democrats, a radical anti-government group, won three seats in the legislature.

Low turnout

The winners included Leung Kwok-hung, better known as “Long Hair”, who had expressed concerns that he would lose his seat after his victory in 2004.

“The success of the League of Social Democrats issues a warning sign to the government. They represent the grassroots' voice and are expected to take an aggressive, hardlined stance towards issues such as minimum wage,” said Choy.

Emily Lau, the first woman elected to the legislature in 1991, won back her seat by a narrow margin. She accused the Beijing and Hong Kong authorities of “conspiring” to discourage the public to cast their votes.

Only 45 per cent of voters turned out on Sunday, about 10 per cent lower than four years ago.

“The government is very afraid of a high turnout because it would mean that people want more democracy. It has been working overtime to make sure that people don't come out to vote,” she said.

HK opposition retains veto power