Democracy advocates enjoyed major victories on Sunday after sweeping 17 of the 18 district council elections in Hong Kong. The pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong was thoroughly routed losing all but 21 races across the district. Federation of Trade Union candidates fared no better than their DAB allies, with only four candidates coming out on top. Leaders for both Chinese government-allied parties blamed the current political climate for the defeat which came after five months of protests over the extradition bill.
What’s interesting was how widespread Hongkongers decided to cast ballots in favor of pan-democratic candidates. South China Morning Post reported voters in rich and poor districts all went for either the Civic or Democratic parties including districts that were the site of recent demonstrations. It almost all of Hong Kong, save for the Islands District where pro-Beijing candidates were automatically handed victories by leaders, has been bitten by the freedom bug.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam did what most politicians are wont to do after stunning defeats: promise to listen to the electorate and reflect on what changes could be made.
“I noticed that the public have much analysis and interpretations over the results, and many pointed out that the results reflected the disappointment over the social situation and deep problems,” Lam said in a statement according to Hong Kong Free Press. “The SAR government will humbly listen to the public and reflect thoroughly.”
Pro-Beijing columnists in Hong Kong decided perhaps the government and police were too harsh in their handling of the extradition bill. SCMP opinion writer Alex Lo begrudgingly advised the government to meet some of the demands of the protesters although he chastized the rioters as hooligans. Lo also blamed Lam and several of her deputies for the election results and suggested it was time for them to resign. He disapprovingly quipped “violence wins,” however, one has to wonder how he would feel when pushed to the end of a proverbial rope.
The Chinese government’s response? A simple reminder Hong Kong was still part of their country with an almost desperate, ‘There’s nothing to see, here!’ plea.
“It’s not the final result yet. Let’s wait for the final result, OK?” Foreign Minister Wang Yi claimed to reporters following a meeting in Japan where he was pressed on adhering to the ‘one country, two systems’ model in Hong Kong. “However, it is clear that no matter what happens, Hong Kong is a part of China and a special administrative region of China.”
Beijing intimated Lam would stay on the job with a government spokesperson giving her a vote of confidence. It also promised to support the police in restoring order, whatever that means.
Government-owned media ignored the election results. Xinhua reported voters went to the polls but declined to reveal which candidates won. Their only real note on the election was it happened during a time of social unrest and that a group of rioters harassed so-called patriotic candidates. No harassment was reported by local Hong Kong outlets.
A word of caution before too many champagne bottles are popped over the Hong Kong election results. The District Council offices are advisers to the Hong Kong government and do not have a major hand in putting together policy. The role appears similar to that of a County Clerk and Recorder in America.
It will be next year during the Legislative Council election when Hongkongers could send an even bigger message to Beijing. The council has an actual role in determining policy although China still enjoys a bit of a heavier hand.
Pan-democrats should keep pushing forward with their agenda and the importance of freedom and liberty in the region. There is no reason to stop, now. Freedom is winning.