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Hong Kong to vote in first election since occupy protest

[HONG KONG] Voters in Hong Kong go to the polls on Sunday for the biggest election since the student-led pro-democracy "Occupy" protests two years ago failed to gain concessions from Beijing.

The election for Legislative Council remains Hong Kong's most high-profile democratic outlet, with the former British colony run by a chief executive approved by the Chinese government.

But voting for the 70-seat council, known as LegCo, is not a straightforward matter.

It has lawmakers drawn from both geographic districts and professional groups. And while they can block or amend legislation, they don't decide who's in government.  Here's a guide to what the election is all about: What is LegCo?

LegCo traces its origins to British rule in 1843, when it was set up as an advisory body to the colonial governor.

Though its powers have expanded, its main role remains to debate legislation introduced by the government. LegCo can block a bill if half its members oppose it.

Changes to the Basic Law, the city's constitution, require a two-thirds majority. Most recently, LegCo blocked a Beijing-backed electoral reform bill after opposition lawmakers -- known as pan-democrats - deemed it not sufficiently democratic.

Why does the election matter?

While the LegCo election won't result in a new government, it will affect how easily Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration can implement its agenda.

Should parties aligned under a pro-democracy umbrella win 35 or more seats they would be able to block legislation - assuming they can agree among themselves. A strong showing by government critics could also weaken Mr Leung ahead of vote by a committee of 1,200 insiders next year to select the next chief executive.

How are its members elected?

Of LegCo's 70 seats, 35 are from geographical districts and 30 represent various professions, industries and special- interest groups such as medicine, finance and agriculture.

Eligible adults can vote for both a candidate in their geographic area and another for five citywide "super seats."

Voting for the remaining "functional constituencies" is limited to members of those select professions, or about 240,000 of the 3.78 million eligible voters.   Who holds power now?

In the last election in 2012, candidates under the pan- democratic umbrella won 18 geographic constituency seats, six functional constituency seats and 3 super seats for a total of 27. Lawmakers seen as pro-Beijing won 17 geographic constituency seats, 24 functional constituency seats and two super seats for a total of 43.

What are the issues?

One focus will be the debate about the role of Beijing amid calls among some groups for independence. There will be discussion about living costs, housing and the economy.

The economy expanded 1.6 per cent in the second quarter as a pickup in exports helped offset sluggish retail sales in the city. Economists forecast growth to slow to 1.2 per cent this year from 2.4 per cent last year, weighed down by weakness in mainland China.

How could it impact city leadership?

Critics of Mr Leung have sought to make the LegCo vote a referendum on his leadership. The campaign dubbed "ABC," for "Anyone But CY Leung" aims to pressure the Chinese government to consider replacing the chief executive, which proponents argue is the only way to break the political stalemate in post-Occupy Hong Kong. There's so far been no indication that Beijing would back another to succeed Mr Leung after his term ends in June.

What will it mean for China?

China's refusal to allow Hong Kong citizens to vote directly for the chief executive unless they agreed to choose from a list of pre-vetted candidates caused the Occupy protests to fizzle out after 79 days.

Frustration over that failure spawned a nascent movement advocating greater autonomy - and even independence - from China.

While the government barred pro-independence candidates from running and required candidates to sign a form acknowledging the city is an inalienable part of China, some more radical "localists" have made the cut.

Success in Sunday's vote could give them a greater platform to challenge what they see as China's encroachment on Hong Kong's autonomy.

BLOOMBERG