Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp is headed for a thumping victory in yesterday’s district council elections, according to local media, in a vote widely seen as a referendum on the Beijing-backed government’s handling of months of violent political unrest.
There was a record turnout at Sunday’s elections, and candidates favoring calls for greater democracy seized a shockingly vast majority of the 452 seats contested. Pro-democracy candidates grabbed 388 seats — a stunning net gain of 263 — according to local media, with the establishment holding on to only 59. Five went to independents.
District councils — which handle community-level concerns such as bus routes and garbage collection — have long been dominated by the pro-Beijing establishment.
The pro-democracy camp hopes weakening that grip would send a message to China and Hong Kong’s unpopular leader Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong has endured months of mass rallies and violent clashes pitting police against protesters who are mobilized by fears that Beijing is whittling away at the semi-autonomous territory’s freedoms, which are unique for China.
Their demands include direct popular elections and a probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.
“The voice of the public is loud and clear… We hope the government can heed the protesters’ demands,” Roy Kwong, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature who won a district council seat for the Democratic Party, was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
Analysts had expected pro-democracy candidates to achieve only minimal gains in the councils.
A record 71 percent of the 4.13 million citizens who registered to vote had cast their ballots, according to Hong Kong’s election watchdog, far higher than the then-record 47 percent who voted in 2015 council elections. More than 2.94 million votes — twice as many as in 2015 — were cast in a city of some 7.5 million people.
“Even though one ballot can only help a little, I still hope it can bring change to society and support street protests in some way,” said 19-year-old student Michael Ng, voting for the first time.
The vote is the closest Hongkongers get to direct representation.
The territory’s legislature is elected by a mix of popular vote and industry groups stacked with China loyalists, which ensures Beijing’s control. But some candidates for next year’s legislative elections will be drawn from district councils, and the bodies also will contribute 117 members to the 1,200-strong Beijing-controlled electoral college that chooses the chief executive.
Protests died down in the poll run-up after pro-democracy figures urged calm to avoid triggering any delay or suspension of the polls.
No major disturbances were reported during voting.
Additional reporting by Coconuts HK.
NOTE: This story has been updated to include the most recent breakdown of district council seats.
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