James To (C) from the Democratic Party, who has won the most votes among all candidates, waves after winning in the territory-wide poll of the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong -

The leader of Hong Kong's Democratic Party resigned on Monday after the party performed poorly in weekend legislative elections, despite a high turnout and strong support for full democracy.

The results give the pro-democracy camp the “critical minority” it needs to veto constitutional amendments ahead of a key debate about universal suffrage in the coming four-year term of the legislature.

But official results showed the best-known pro-democracy party won only four seats, down from eight, in the new 70-seat assembly, prompting chairman Albert Ho to offer an emotional apology to the party faithful.

“For the serious failure in this election I have to accept full political responsibility as the chairman of the Democratic Party,” Ho said after bowing before the television cameras at a press conference.

He attributed the party's poor performance in Sunday's vote to a split in the democratic camp and the popularity of radical candidates, not to a fall in support for democracy.

“In the recent months the general public has become increasingly impatient and even very angry with the existing administration,” Ho said, after weeks of protests over an unpopular education policy.

“I think a lot of voters have decided to choose some people who ... play a much more aggressive role in the Legislative Council.”

The results mean the Civic Party with five seats, up from four previously, overtakes the Democratic Party as the biggest pro-democracy party in the legislature, with almost all the votes counted.

On the pro-Beijing side, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong is the biggest force with at least 12 seats.

The election was seen as a test of popular support for the pro-Beijing government, and by extension for the mainland authorities' hold on the city 15 years after the former colony was handed over by Britain.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks over a plan to introduce mandatory Chinese patriotism classes, forcing the government into an election-eve backdown.

Tensions have also been brewing over corruption, the yawning gap between rich and poor, soaring property prices fuelled by wealthy mainlanders and the strains on public services from millions of mainland tourists.

Surveys show dissatisfaction with mainland rule is rising, especially among the young, while satisfaction with the Communist Party's performance in governing China is at its lowest point since the 1997 handover.

But a near-record turnout of about 53 percent, almost eight percent higher than the previous vote in 2008, failed to translate into a surge of support for the democratic bloc.

The pro-democracy candidates won have 24 of the 65 seats counted so far. They won 18 of the 35 directly elected geographical constituencies, and six of the 30 “functional constituencies” which are not chosen by popular vote.

Beijing has promised universal suffrage for the next leadership election in 2017, and by 2020 for the legislature, but democrats are preparing for a fight amid fears the mainland will try to veto the candidates.

Analysts say Hong Kong's complicated electoral system makes it difficult for the democratic bloc to translate strong public backing for full democracy into legislative power.

Executive power rests with a chief executive who is appointed by a “small circle” of 1 200 people, including business tycoons with vested interests in mainland China. - Sapa-AFP