News & Politics

Record Turnout as Hong Hong Voters Elect Pro-Democracy Candidates in Blow to China

Protesters gather on Victoria Park in Hong Kong Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. Thousands of people streamed into the park for what organizers hope will be a peaceful demonstration for democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

In a key rebuke to Chinese rule, pro-democracy candidates won local elections in Hong Kong amid record voter turnout. The protests abated as voters headed to the polls in local elections that suddenly became far more consequential.

Democratic candidates won almost 90 percent of the 452 seats on the district councils, Reuters reported. District council elections are usually quiet affairs. These local government bodies mainly deal with noise complaints, bus stop locations, and neighborhood beautification projects. Yet the Democratic Party victories came as a shock, as pro-democracy candidates ousted well-funded pro-China status quo candidates. Some polling places reverberated with shouts of “Liberate Hong Kong!” and “Revolution Now!”

According to the New York Times, more than 69 percent of voters had already voted with an hour before the polls closed. This far surpassed the 47 percent turnout in the broader election in 2015. That turnout had already set a record after the Umbrella Movement the year before.

While the district councils are mostly focused on hyper-local issues, their members form part of the election committee for Hong Kong’s chief executive. This win could give the pro-democracy movement influence over the next vote in 2022.

Carrie Lam, the current pro-Beijing chief executive, said the government respected the results and would “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect.”

Democratic Party Chairman Wu Chi-wai hailed the election as a first step toward democracy. “This district election shows that the central government needs to face the demands of a democratic system,” he said.

Over the past six months, protesters have taken to the streets amid fears of a Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong, which is administered as a semi-autonomous region. The demonstrations began in opposition to a now-withdrawn proposal that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Protesters have demanded that Hong Kong expand its democracy. Only 40 of the 70 seats in the legislature are selected by popular vote. Protesters want voters to choose the entire legislature, and to select the chief executive.

Chinese riot police have cracked down on the protests, but this election shows that Hongkongers will not surrender easily.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.