Hong Kong’s Vote Sends a Clear Message

A pro-democracy supporter (C) opens a bottle of champagne outside a polling station to celebrate after pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho lost a seat in the district council elections in Tuen Mun district of Hong Kong, early on November 25, 2019. - Hong Kong's voters turned out in record numbers for local council elections that the city's pro-democracy movement hopes will add pressure on the Beijing-backed government to heed their demands after months of violent protest. Lengthy queues snaked out of polling stations across the territory in the election for 18 district councils, where high turnout is expected to benefit democratic forces. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

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Why you should care

An unprecedented turnout delivered a clear message to the city’s leadership.

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WHAT TO KNOW

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People queue to cast their vote in front of a “Lennon Wall” adorned with tattered posters in support of the ongoing protests.

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What happened? Hong Kong’s protesters took a break yesterday from the increasingly dangerous clashes with police to vote in district council elections. More than double the number of people who turned out in 2015 showed up to vote this time for a record turnout of 71 percent (compared to 47 percent four years ago) and a resounding anti-Beijing result. Pro-democracy candidates are expected to control nearly 90 percent of district council seats. 

Why does it matter? The landslide victory for the pro-democracy movement has even the top brass rethinking next steps. Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who’s said she respects the election result, promised to “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly.” And humbly may be the word for it: The pro-democracy victory means forces backing the protesters will have a much stronger voice when it comes to selecting Lam’s replacement in 2022. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

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China’s President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting in Beijing.

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Too close to the sun? While pro-democracy activists are celebrating this as a David over Goliath victory, it could potentially spark a backlash from Chinese authorities. While President Xi Jinping could offer political reforms as an option, given Hong Kong’s clear support of its protesters, it’s more likely that China will clamp down even harder on Hong Kong and potentially reduce its autonomy further.

Not over. While the day was largely peaceful, police are still conducting a siege of Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University, where classes have been suspended since Nov. 12 and police have arrested more than 1,000 protesters. A small group is still hiding out inside, though, and victorious pro-democracy politicians have called for an end to the siege. Police negotiators and aid workers are expected to attempt to convince the stragglers to leave soon. 

Next steps. The Democratic Party, now Hong Kong’s biggest governing party, is calling for the city to accede to demands made by the protest movement that has roiled the city for months. They also want Lam to step down. But, leaders say, they’ll also focus on livelihood issues for regular Hongkongers — aware that if people’s lives don’t change, the electoral gains made Sunday could be reversed in the next election. 

WHAT TO READ

Hong Kong Win Will Embolden the Protesters, by Joe Leahy in the Financial Times

“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 Young Winners Who Unseated Political Veterans, on the BBC

“These elections saw many young and novice candidates take on political heavyweights – in the name of Hong Kong’s democracy movement – and emerge victorious.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Hong Kong Elections Framed as a Barometer of Pro-Democracy Protests

Watch on Sky News on YouTube:

“In truth, there has never been an election here quite like this one.”

Hong Kong Voters Rebuke China in Elections

Watch on Bloomberg Politics on YouTube:

“Now the ball is in the government’s court and they really have to respond.”

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Kids in cuffs. Hong Kong’s police have arrested more than 5,000 demonstrators since the protests began this summer — not all of them adults. Last week, they set a new record by convicting the youngest person ever arrested in association with the protests. A 12-year-old was arrested on his way to school and charged with spray painting “divine annihilation, free HK” on a police station. He’ll be sentenced next month, and while he may have a criminal record, nobody under the age of 14 can legally be sentenced to prison time.

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