Last week's local elections in Hong Kong were supposed to be a pro-forma affair, reaffirming the dominance of pro-Beijing "loyalist" politicians; instead, pro-democracy parties swept every district save one — the rural Islands district, where seats are automatically handed to "pro-establishment rural chiefs."
The election saw record turnouts — so many first-time young voters cast ballots that incumbents who increased the number of votes they received still lost because new voters cast ballots against them, and in favor of pro-democracy parties. More than a million new voters registered for this election, and it saw a 71% turnout of registered voters (only 47% voted in 2015).
Despite the surge of younger voters, the pro-democracy victories are owed to a flood of pro-democracy votes in every kind of poll: "in poor and rich neighbourhoods, in both protest-prone and non-protest-afflicted districts and, in downtown areas as well as the suburbs." The ballots were hand-marked on paper and counted in public.
The results come as a shock to Beijing. The Chinese state had been so certain of a victory that it had already prepared news-stories about it. While it's fun to imagine the frustration of the officials who directed the brutal crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong, it's sobering to recall that the Chinese state's most brutal crackdowns have historically followed on from surprises in which senior officials' most cherished initiatives failed.
The politicians swept to victory include numerous young protest leaders, including five or more Occupy activists and people closely associated with the Hong Kong protests that started last spring.
The Hang-Seng stock index rose on the news; investors may be imagining that the electoral victory will end the protests as the program of political reform moves from the streets into the council chamber.
Out of 452 total seats, pro-democracy parties took 347 (77%), independents (who typically lean pro-democracy) took 45 (10%), and establishment, pro-Beijing parties won 60 seats (13%), down from 292 (!). The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city's largest pro-establishment party, went from 119 seats to 21.
The change in local governments means that beleaguered city executive Carrie Lam will struggle to get her agenda through council and will find her situation even more precarious — already, pro-Beijing politicians who lost their seat are blaming Lam's mishandling of the political situation for their rout. Lam promised to "listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect."
Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun has lost his district council seat in Discovery Park, Tsuen Wan, to pro-democracy candidate Lau Cheuk-yu.
"I respect the electorate's decision," Tien says, adding he received a similar number of votes as the last time, meaning people are satisfied with his work.
He puts the loss down to an increase in the number of young voters.
"If that's true, it means young people are no longer insensitive to politics," Tien says, adding the government needs to listen to the voice of the youth.
Hong Kong elections: pro-democracy camp wins 17 out of 18 districts while city leader says she will reflect on the result [Jeffie Lam, Sum Lok-kei and Ng Kang-chung/South China Morning Post]
(via Naked Capitalism)