Pro-democracy protests have been going on in Hong Kong for several months. What began as a large student demonstration against new laws imposed by the central Chinese government in Beijing turned violent, and appeared to dwindle to a small group of hardcore activists. A recent election in the city has revealed, however, that the protestors have wide support.
The district council election in Hong Kong gave a landslide victory to the pro-democracy camp and is widely interpreted as an unofficial referendum on the Chinese Communist Party’s interference in the governance of the former British colony.
A record-breaking 71% of voters cast their ballots in the election. Of the 452 contested seats, pro-democratic candidates won 385, collecting more than 85% of the votes.
In the previously Beijing-friendly district of Wan Chai, the pro-government share dropped from 84% in 2015 to only 30% in 2019. Candidates who support the protesters, now in their sixth month of activism, won 17 out of 18 districts.
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam expressed that she “respected the results” and conceded that “quite a few are of the view that the results reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society.” She promised the government would “humbly and seriously reflect” on the election result.
No Democracy – Yet
Despite the landslide victory, the election will not directly impact the selection of the government. Even with the infusion of district council members who can vote on the selection of Hong Kong’s chief executive, the pro-democracy camp likely does not hold a majority, although it is close.
The protesters now officially know that most people in Hong Kong are on their side, which lends them credence in the international community. Consequently, Western countries are more likely to voice official support to the protesters as a legitimate movement backed democratically by the people. This election has enormously boosted morale and confidence in the pro-democracy movement.
China Doesn’t React
Sometimes the most significant part of an event is what doesn’t happen. During the six months of turbulence in Hong Kong, Beijing has stayed out officially and left the task of cleaning up to Lam and her administration. This reflects China’s fundamental dependence on access to the global market, especially the West. Many parties who want to do business with China prefer to go through Hong Kong.
Hong Kong can survive well without China, but the converse is not true. While that may not secure freedom for Hong Kong, it could buy residents more bargaining chips.