The pro-democracy opposition won a resounding victory in Hong Kong elections, according to media tallies, in a clear rebuke to city leader Carrie Lam and her handling of violent protests that have divided the Chinese territory.
Hong Kong media said Monday that the pro-democracy camp had won a commanding majority of the 452 district council seats at stake, taking control of at least 17 of the city’s 18 district councils.
The result of Sunday’s elections could force the central government in Beijing to rethink how to handle the unrest, which is now in its sixth month. The district councils have little power, but the vote became a referendum on public support for the protests.
“It’s nothing short of a revolution. This is a landslide,” said Willy Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It’s a sound repudiation of the Carrie Lam administration and shows the silent majority are behind the demands of the protesters,”
The media tallies are based on official results for the individual races.
The pro-democracy camp hailed its strong gains in the normally low-key race as a victory for the people. Former Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat said that Carrie Lam should give serious consideration to the demands of the protesters, and in particular a call for an independent commission to investigate the events of the past six months.
“It is a genuine referendum of the people of Hong Kong,” he said at a news conference. “The Democratic Party hopes our chief executive, Mrs. Carrie Lam, receives the same message because the votes make a clear voice of the Hong Kong people.”
Lam issued a statement saying her government respects the results and will listen to and seriously reflect on the opinions of members of the public.
“There are various analyses and interpretations in the community in relation to the results, and 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 said.
A record 71% of Hong Kong’s 4.1 million registered voters cast ballots Sunday, well exceeding the 47% turnout in the district council elections four years ago. The large number of votes was slowing down the counting.
The largest pro-Beijing political party suffered a major setback, with at least 155 of its 182 candidates defeated, according to media tallies.
Horace Cheung, the vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the loss was the collective responsibility of the party, and that the party would reflect on the outcome to prepare for coming challenges.
Among the losing incumbents was controversial pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, who was stabbed with a knife while campaigning this month.
The winners included former student leaders and a candidate who replaced activist Joshua Wong, the only person barred from running in the election.
Pro-democracy rally organizer Jimmy Sham, who was beaten by hammer-wielding assailants last month, also triumphed, as did a pro-democracy lawmaker who had part of his ear bitten off by an assailant.
The demonstrations have turned increasingly violent. Protesters have smashed storefronts of businesses seen as sympathetic to China, torched toll booths, shut down a major tunnel and engaged in pitched battles with police, countering tear gas volleys and water cannons with torrents of gasoline bombs.
More than 5,000 people have been arrested in the unrest that has contributed to Hong Kong’s first recession in a decade.
The vote is the only fully democratic one in Hong Kong. Members of the legislature are chosen partly by popular vote and partly by interest groups representing different sectors of society, and the city’s leader is picked by a 1,200-member body that is dominated by supporters of the central government in Beijing.
Dixon Sing, a political science lecturer with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the election result was “tantamount to a rejection of the hard-line policy of Beijing and the Hong Kong government.”
A win would give the pro-democracy camp 117 seats in the panel that elects the city’s leader, bolstering its influence, but Beijing isn’t likely to soften its stance or make any concessions to the protesters, he said.