Hong Kong Election Results Give Democracy Backers Big Win


HONG KONG — Pro-democracy candidates buoyed by months of street protests in Hong Kong won a stunning victory in local elections on Sunday, as record numbers voted in a vivid expression of the city’s aspirations and its anger with the Chinese government.

It was a pointed rebuke of Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong, and the turnout — seven in 10 eligible voters — suggested that the public continues to back the democracy movement, even as the protests grow increasingly violent. Young Hong Kongers, a major force behind the demonstrations of the past six months, played a leading role in the voting surge.

With three million voters casting ballots, pro-democracy candidates captured 389 of 452 elected seats, up from only 124 and far more than they have ever won. The government’s allies held just 58 seats, a remarkable collapse from 300.

To many democracy advocates, Sunday was a turning point.

“There has been a very deep awakening of the Hong Kong people,” said Alan Leong, chairman of the Civic Party, one of the largest pro-democracy parties.

The district councils are among the most democratic bodies in Hong Kong. Almost all the seats are directly elected, unlike the legislature, where the proportion is just over half. The territory’s chief executive is also not chosen directly by voters, but is instead selected by a committee stacked in favor of Beijing.

The election results will give democracy forces considerably more influence on that committee, which is scheduled to choose a new chief executive in 2022.

The district councils name about a tenth of the group’s 1,200 members, and now all of these will flip from pro-Beijing to pro-democracy seats. Democracy advocates already control about a quarter of the seats, while other previously pro-Beijing sectors of the committee are now starting to lean toward democracy, most notably accountants and real estate lawyers.

Mr. Leong, the Civic Party chairman, called on the Chinese Communist Party to change its policies in Hong Kong.

“Unless the C.C.P. is doing something concrete to address the concerns of the Hong Kong people,” he said, “I think this movement cannot end.”

Regina Ip, a cabinet member and the leader of a pro-Beijing political party, said she was surprised to see so many young voters, many of whom tried to confront her with the protesters’ demands.

David Lee, a retired printer approaching his 90th birthday, was among the earliest voters on Hong Kong Island and said he had come because he wanted democracy.

“This is important,” he said.

Some analysts had predicted that pro-democracy candidates would have difficulty making big gains. Pro-Beijing candidates are much better financed, and the district races have traditionally been won on purely local issues, not big questions like democracy, said Joseph Cheng, a retired professor at City University of Hong Kong.

But voter turnout soared to 71 percent, far surpassing expectations. Typically in district council elections, it is little more than 40 percent. Four years ago, after the 2014 Umbrella Movement increased public interest in politics, turnout climbed to 47 percent. This year, the number of registered voters hit a record.

Instead of just focusing on local issues, many pro-democracy candidates ran on the broad themes of the protest movement, especially anger at police brutality, and the intensity of the demonstrations sometimes spilled into the race. Candidates on both sides were attacked while campaigning.

Mandy Lee, 53, a homemaker who voted at the Kowloon Bay neighborhood, showed up to vote for the pro-Beijing establishment and criticized the protests.

Many pro-Beijing political parties receive large donations from the Hong Kong subsidiaries of state-owned enterprises in mainland China, which they use to organize picnics and other campaign events. But the results on Sunday showed the limits of these efforts.

Reporting was contributed by K.K. Rebecca Lai in New York and Jin Wu and Katherine Li in Hong Kong.

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