Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng
Hongkongers showed up to the polls in unprecedented numbers on November 24 to deliver a strong rebuke to the government establishment led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é), ushering in more pro-democracy candidates into district council seats than ever before. The New York Times reports that nearly seven in 10 eligible voters participated, with this result:
With three million voters casting ballots, pro-democracy candidates captured 389 of 452 elected seats, up from only 124 and far more than they have ever won. The government’s allies held just 58 seats, a remarkable collapse from 300.
Although the district council elections are for minor posts, they are also by far the broadest poll that Hongkongers are allowed to participate in, making them widely perceived as a referendum on the city’s protest movement:
The district councils are among the most democratic bodies in Hong Kong. Almost all the seats are directly elected, unlike the legislature, where the proportion is just over half. The territory’s chief executive is also not chosen directly by voters, but is instead selected by a committee stacked in favor of Beijing.
The results shatter Carrie Lam’s claim that a “silent majority” of Hong Kong just wants stability and the status quo, and show that, in fact, most of Hong Kong’s voting populace is much more upset with the government than with the protest movement. “The government will certainly listen humbly to citizens’ opinions and reflect on them seriously,” a contrite but tight-lipped Lam stated after the election, without elaborating on what action she might take.
Beijing was also deeply embarrassed by the election results, with state media avoiding mentioning the actual election outcome, but rather simply noting that a poll was held. “According to the HKSAR Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), 452 seats of 18 electoral districts have all been decided” is as specific as state media outlet Xinhua got.
Meanwhile, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin blamed a form of foreign interference, citing media reports from “the West.”
* 71% turnout (3 mil ballots)
* Pan-democrats 388/9, pro-Beijing 58/9
* Opposition candidates won ~90% of contested seats
* More than half of the 452 seats flipped
* 17 of 18 districts flipped from pro-BJ-controlled to pro-dem
Maybe "The West" isn't the problem 🤔 https://t.co/90z3eXQZ10
— Anthony Tao (@anthonytao) November 25, 2019
Will reforms be made, or will the leaders just quit?
An editorial by the South China Morning Post, the city’s largest — and generally pro-establishment — English-language paper, says that “the people have spoken.” The editorial continues, “The majority is still critical of the way the government has been handling the political crisis and wants its demands addressed, including the establishment of an independent inquiry [of police behavior] and reforms for greater democracy.”
Even that paper’s reliably Beijing-friendly columnist, Alex Lo, says, “Time to concede to save Hong Kong” — though what he is calling for is not any good faith response to the actual five demands of the Hong Kong protesters, but rather swift resignations from three top city officials: Carrie Lam, along with Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah (郑若骅 Zhèng Ruòhuá) and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超 Lǐ Jiāchāo).
What will Beijing do next?
Make no mistake: this election result will not be seen by Beijing as a sign that they need to change tack in their approach to Hong Kong. It will not be the catalyst for some grand compromise. It will be seen as a sign that the Hong Kong people are making the wrong choice, and action needs to be taken to correct them. This is an emergency — one that, one way or another, Beijing will need to address before the more important Legislative Council elections in September 2020.