News Update

Hong Kong polls: Pro-democracy groups make big gains

According to early results, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has made unprecedented gains in the district council elections, media reports said on Monday. In the figures put out till now, pro-democracy candidates have won 278 seats as against pro-Beijing candidates 42.

Hong Kong’s district councillors have little political power and mainly deal with local issues such as bus routes and rubbish collection. And as such they have never normally generated interest, however, these polls were the first time people could express at the ballot box their opinion on embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s handling of the crisis, which was sparked by a now withdrawn extradition law.

There was huge turnout even to witness the counting process. Outside the Yau Ma Tei North polling station, residents lined up and as the doors opened, they poured into the public viewing area, the BBC report said. It appeared they wanted to ensure that the process was fair and transparent.

There were loud cheers of astonishment as one surprising result came in after another. Nobody imagined such a comprehensive wipeout, the report said.

Despite fears the vote could be disrupted or cancelled over the unrest, it went ahead peacefully. A record 4.1 million people had registered to vote — more than half the population. And more than 2.9 million cast votes for the 452 seats available, a turnout of more than 71 per cent, as against 47 per cent in 2015.

The weekend was the first in months without any clashes or violence between protesters and police, the BBC reported.

The elections were being seen as a test of support for the government after months of unrest, protests and clashes. The government and Beijing had been hoping the election would bring a show of support from the so-called “silent majority”, but that did not materialise.

Instead some significant pro-Beijing candidates lost council seats. One controversial pro-Beijing lawmaker, who lost his seat, Junius Ho, said “heaven and earth have been turned upside down”.

“Facing the extremely challenging situation, I’m pleased to say… we have a relatively calm and peaceful environment for (the) election today,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said after voting.

In one of the biggest losses for the pro-Beijing camp, lawmaker Ho suffered a shock defeat. He was stabbed earlier in November by a man pretending to be a supporter. The lawmaker has openly voiced his support for Hong Kong’s police force on multiple occasions. He was in July filmed shaking hands with a group of men — suspected of being triad gangsters — who later assaulted pro-democracy protesters.

Reflecting on her reported defeat, pro-Beijing lawmaker Alice Mak suggested Lam’s administration was partly to blame. “In the election campaign, pro-government candidates have been unfairly treated. This is a very important reason,” the BBC quoted Mak as saying.

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the city’s largest pro-Beijing party, was among the few establishment candidates to secure her seat.

“I think (Lee) is the only one who can survive the de facto referendum,” said Leung Kwok-hung, her pro-democracy opponent in the poll.

Lam’s administration would be under renewed pressure to listen to the demands of protestors following these results.