In local elections in Hong Kong on Sunday, pro-democracy candidates won seventeen out of eighteen district councils. 452 seats were won by pro-democracy candidates, 60 were won by pro-China candidates and 45 by independents. Pro-democracy candidates won almost 60% of the total vote.
Voter turnout was 71.2%, a record high with the highest-ever number of registered voters turning out at the polls.
Though not all of the pro-democracy candidates explicitly focused their campaigns on Hong Kong’s mass protests, about 13% of them included the protest phrase “five demands, not one less” in their campaigns. (The five demands are to withdraw the extradition bill that launched the protests, begin an independent inquiry into protester allegations of police brutality, redact any official labeling of a June 12 protest as a “riot”, give amnesty to arrested protesters, and have the Chief Executive of Hong Kong be elected directly by the people).
District councillors mainly deal with local issues, such as transportation and public services and facilities. They are not members of the Hong Kong legislature, though they can suggest that it appropriate funds for local projects.
However, councillors choose 117 of themselves to sit on a 1200 member committee that chooses Hong Kong’s chief executive (who is then approved by China). While pro-democracy leaders will not be in the majority, they will hold considerably more influence than they did previously.
For many Hongkongers, the elections also symbolize the public’s attitude towards the protests and China’s administration of Hong Kong.
Notably, a variety of young Hongkongers won district council seats, often defeating older incumbents. Young people have been heavily involved in Hong Kong’s protests. They have said that despite their victories, they will continue protesting for greater autonomy for Hong Kong.
Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong who is unpopular among pro-democracy protesters, said that the government “respects the election results.” She acknowledged that the results “reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society. [The government] will listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect.”
Prior to the elections and in the midst of mass protests, Lam claimed that she had a “silent majority” who would support her at the polls. Sunday’s elections seem to have proved her wrong. Though she does not have to obey the district councillors, she will likely face increased pressure from them to meet the protesters’ demands.
Hong Kong police commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung, who has been the subject of criticism based on allegations of police brutality, said he had no problem with the results.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi stated that “No matter how the situation in Hong Kong changes, it is very clear that Hong Kong is a part of Chinese territory. Any attempts to disrupt Hong Kong or undermine its stability and prosperity will not succeed.” Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that “The Chinese government is unswervingly determined to safeguard national sovereignty, and to oppose any interference in Hong Kong affairs by external forces.”
Chinese state media said little of the elections. They did claim that “abnormal” circumstances made it easier for pro-democracy constituents to vote, and that “Western forces” supported the pro-democracy candidates.
The protests in Hong Kong will likely continue.
Hong Kong’s governmental structure is explained here.
The video below explains the source of protests in Hong Kong, as well as an overview of Hong Kong’s status as a country and relationship to China.
Image: VOA [Public domain]