This past Sunday’s elections were seen as a referendum on the extended street protests gripping Hong Kong for nearly six months.
With 95 percent of the vote counted, all but one of the 18 local districts are now under the political control of pro-democracy councillors. Previously, all of the city councils were much more accepting of Beijing’s influence.
Nearly three million Hong Kong citizens turned out to vote last Sunday, as compared to less than half that number in the previous election. Many of the new voters were young people who were at the forefront of the ongoing street demonstrations.
It’s important to note that these local officials have little political power. Mostly they deal with issues limited to their neighborhoods, such as traffic routes.
But the resounding pro-democracy vote does carry importance on two levels: symbolically, it lends legitimacy to the extended protests over the past six months, and, politically, the local councillors do have at least some influence in the next election of the city executive in 2022.
The current city executive, Carrie Lam, has been critical of the street demonstrations, particularly as they escalated into violent confrontations with police over the past two weeks.
Ms. Lam had voiced strong optimism that a “silent majority” of Hong Kong citizens, exhausted by the chaos generated by the prolonged protests, would give her government strong support in the election.
After preliminary election results showed a landslide against her and her administration, she issued a statement that included: “The results reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society.”
The heightened violence of the past two weeks significantly toned down over the past weekend, as protesters were aware that the government might use the recent physical confrontations as an excuse to call off the local elections.
As for Beijing’s reaction, the Chinese foreign minister stated, “Whatever happens, Hong Kong is always a part of China and any attempts to create chaos in Hong Kong or to jeopardize its prosperity and stability will not be successful.”
It should be noted that the Chinese state-controlled media barely made any mention of the election results.