Commentary: Hong Kong poll win will embolden protesters

Commentary: Hong Kong poll win will embolden protesters

Victory in the Hong Kong District Council polls will give democrats more channels of influence, says the Financial Times’ Joe Leahy.

A woman reacts during the counting of the votes of the Hong Kong council elections
A woman reacts during the counting of the votes of the Hong Kong council elections, in a polling station in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

SINGAPORE: For months, Beijing has described Hong Kong’s protesters as “behaving like terrorists” manipulated by foreign forces against the will of a suffering population.

On Sunday (Nov 24), the people of Hong Kong gave their verdict in the first vote since the demonstrations erupted in June.

In one of the biggest voter turnouts in Hong Kong history, the pro-democracy camp won 17 of 18 districts — compared with zero in the last poll four years ago.

Some of the most prominent pro-Beijing figures lost their seats while hardline democracy activists won theirs.

A PEACEFUL VOTE

Despite concerns of violence, the vote was peaceful. There were no clashes between police and black-clad protesters, just candidates and their supporters waving to passersby. 

The elections followed one of the most disruptive fortnights in the protests. Police laid siege to universities and protesters snarled up transport forcing schools to close.

One of the sieges, at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was still under way on Monday — a week after it began. 

Analysts thought the violence might weaken popular support for the movement. The district council elections have put paid to that speculation. 

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THE POWERS THE COUNCILS HAVE

The councils lack political power, mostly advising the government on quotidian community matters.

But the victory will give the pro-democracy camp new channels of influence. 

Winning candidate Kelvin Lam and activist Joshua Wong greet people and thank them for their support
Winning candidate Kelvin Lam and activist Joshua Wong greet people and thank them for their support, outside of South Horizons Station, in Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2019, the morning after Lam won in district council elections. (Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis)

The winner of the district council elections can nominate six people to the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s de facto parliament, and 117 people to the 1,200-member election committee of mostly pro-Beijing loyalists that selects the city’s chief executive. 

The significance of the district council elections, however, is that they are the most direct vote in the territory. They are decided by simple majority, in contrast to the LegCo poll that gives an outsized voice to business.

This poll was a referendum on the protest movement. 

A DEEPENING CRISIS

The crisis facing the Hong Kong government and its Beijing masters has now deepened.

An emboldened protest movement will press its demands even harder, including those for universal suffrage in the election of Hong Kong’s leader and an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality. 

One solution might be for Beijing to offer political reform. This would not be unprecedented.

In 2014, President Xi Jinping made a proposal according to which Beijing would provide a list of screened candidates for the leadership. Hong Kong voters would be able to elect one of them by direct vote.

This was rejected by the pro-democracy camp but Beijing could try to produce another plan for consideration. That at least would raise the prospect of a political solution to the city’s dilemma. 

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Composite image of Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping
Composite image of Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. (Photos: AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI)

READ: Hong Kong leader vows to 'listen humbly' to voters after shock poll result

The most likely result, however, is that the Communist party will continue to hold firm to its position. 

The past months will have convinced Mr Xi that Hong Kong cannot be trusted with the autonomy it already enjoys, let alone any more. 

“This is David against Goliath! Hurrah!” tweeted one supporter of Jimmy Sham, a pro-democracy candidate who was beaten by thugs with hammers ahead of the elections. 

It looks like Hong Kong’s days of tear gas and rubber bullets are not over.

Source: Financial Times/sl

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