Hong Kong elections: Pro-democracy groups makes big gains

Hong Kong election Supporters of a pro-democracy candidate celebrate as results in the district election were announced PIX: REUTERS via BBC
Supporters of a pro-democracy candidate celebrate as results in the district election were announced PIX: REUTERS via BBC

HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s opposition pro-democracy movement has made major gains in the Chinese territory’s district council elections, local media reports say.

It took 201 of the first 241 seats declared, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper. Pro-Beijing candidates took just 28.

More than 2.9m people voted, a turnout of more than 71%, against 47% in 2015.

The election was billed as a test of support for embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Hong Kong’s district councillors mainly deal with local issues such as bus routes and garbage collection – however, the polls were widely seen as a test of public opinion on the government’s handling of five months of unrest and pro-democracy protests.

One controversial pro-Beijing lawmaker, who lost his seat, said “heaven and earth have been turned upside down”.

A record 4.1 million people had registered to vote, or more than half the population of 7.4 million.

What’s the latest?

Some notable names ran in the elections, including pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, one of the most controversial politicians in the city, who suffered a shock defeat.

He was stabbed earlier this month 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.

Jimmy Sham, a political activist who has recently risen to prominence as the leader of the Civil Human Rights Front – a campaign group responsible for organising some of the mass protest marches – won a seat after running for the first time.

Mr Sham has also been attacked twice, once apparently with hammers. Photographs at the time showed him lying on the street covered in blood.

Standing on crutches, Mr Sham told Reuters news agency on Sunday that the election was “special because it is a formal confrontation between pro-establishment and pro-democracy parties”.

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was barred from running in the elections, a move he referred to as “political screening”, but the pro-democracy candidate who replaced him is said to have won.

In a tweet, Mr Wong said the “historic” results showed that public opinion had not turned against the pro-democracy movement.

Reflecting on her reported defeat, pro-Beijing lawmaker Alice Mak suggested Ms Lam’s administration was partly to blame.

“In the election campaign, pro-government candidates have been unfairly treated. This is a very important reason,” she said.

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.

More than 1,000 candidates ran for 452 district council seats which, for the first time, were all contested. A further 27 seats are allocated to representatives of rural districts.

Pro-Beijing parties held the majority of these seats ahead of the election.

Police were seen outside some polling stations and on the streets during Sunday’s vote but correspondents said they kept a low profile.

“Facing the extremely challenging situation, I’m pleased to say… we have a relatively calm and peaceful environment for [the] election today,” Ms Lam said after voting.

Under Hong Kong’s electoral system, 117 of the district councillors will also sit on the 1,200-member committee that votes for the chief executive.

So a pro-democracy district win could translate eventually to a bigger share, and say, in who becomes the city’s next leader. -BBC

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