Initial results from Sunday’s election in Hong Kong indicate that pro-democracy forces have handed Chinese ruler Xi Jinping a stunning setback. Pro-Beijing candidates are going down to defeat in District Council elections, the first real test of sentiment in the territory since protests began in April over the introduction of a bill authorizing extraditions to mainland China.
So far, pro-Dems have won 88.6 percent of the vote for 452 seats on 18 District Council boards. They have so far taken 351 seats versus 45 for the “establishment” forces. “Absolute political annihilation for the pro-Beijing camp” is how Stephen McDonell, a BBC China correspondent, described the result on Twitter. Tom Mitchell of the Financial Times called it a “Himalayan-sized avalanche.”
Turnout was a record 71.2 percent, well ahead of the previous high mark of 47.1 percent set in 2015, the year after the 79-day “Occupy” protests. A record 4.13 million people, in a region of 7.40 million, were registered to vote this year.
The District Councils, responsible for routine municipal services, have little power, but the Sunday elections took on significance, widely seen as a referendum on various matters because they are the only government bodies in Hong Kong whose members are elected by universal suffrage. “Sunday’s vote,” CNN noted on the eve of the election, “offers the first objective test of how people in the city feel about the protests and the government.”
Therefore, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of the territory, and by extension Beijing, had much at stake. And so did youthful black-clad protesters, who have employed increasingly destructive and violent tactics in more than five months of continuous demonstrations. The rallying cry of some China-friendly candidates was “Kick out the black force.”
Voters, in fact, kicked out China’s friends, including the high-profile Junius Ho, an establishment heavyweight. Pro-Beijing forces, holding 327, or almost three-quarters, of the seats prior to the election, controlled all the District Councils.