HK elections spark reflection

By Yang Sheng, Chen Qingqing, Wang Wenwen and Bai Yunyi in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/25 22:33:41 Last Updated: 2019/11/26 11:32:32

Pro-establishment groups urged to focus on grass roots

Candidates from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress bow to apologize for their defeat in the local district council election in Hong Kong on Monday. Photo: AP

While pan-democrats scored a big win in the 2019 Hong Kong District Council elections on Sunday, the pro-establishment group and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government called for a thorough introspection of deep-rooted social issues while saying the election was "entangled with emotion," which has also been highly politicized amid the ongoing social unrest. 

Pan-democrats won 388 seats against the 63 of the pro-establishment camp and took control 17 of the city's 18 district councils, Hong Kong's Cable News Channel reported.   

The elections were the first held since the anti-government protests that have turned increasingly violent in the past few months. 

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairperson of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress (DAB), the largest pro-establishment group of Hong Kong, apologized on Monday morning following the opposition's landslide victory. DAB representatives also claimed that the party will reflect on its failure. However, the election came at a very challenging time, as some of its offices were damaged and volunteers attacked amid rising social tensions. 

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Monday morning that the SAR government respects the result of the elections, which reflected the dissatisfaction of Hong Kong residents with deep-rooted social issues. And she said the government will "listen carefully" to the opinions of citizens.

This year's elections were held amid months of anti-government protests, with both the number of registered voters and voter turnout reaching record highs. Polling stations closed at 10:30 pm on Sunday and according to the official data, voter turnout was confirmed at 71.2 percent of 4.1 million registered voters, compared to 47 percent in the 2015 polls, and surpassed the previous record of 58 percent in the 2016's Legislative Council elections.

"Ongoing social tensions made public opinion expression highly sentimental," Li Xiaobing, an expert on Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan studies at Nankai University in Tianjin, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The public is dissatisfied with the efforts of the HKSAR government and the pro-establishment camp that supports the government. As a result, the public's judgment and evaluation of the local government were reflected in the elections result, Li said.

Tang Fei, a member of the council of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times that the pro-establishment camp still secured 40 percent of the votes, which means there is no need to over-interpret the victory of pan-democrats, and under the plurality voting system of the district council elections, the opposition won 80 percent of seats with only 60 percent of the vote.

Among the more than 1,000 candidates vying for 452 seats in the district councils of the Hong Kong, about 320 were from pro-establishment parties and more than 390 from pan-democratic groups. Over 370 candidates claimed to be "independent," while the remainder did not provide their political affiliation.

"In the future, the pro-establishment camp should hold onto the 40 percent of votes, and seek support from the population that did not vote this time," said Tang.

Politicized elections 

With such a high voter turnout, coupled with the opposition's propaganda, the opposition is trying to seek support from Western governments and their people, Tang said. 

Ahead of the district council elections, the US Congress passed the Human Rights and Democracy Act, which is believed to be external forces exerting a certain influence on upcoming elections. 

While some Western media referred to the elections as a referendum on HKSAR government, some political representatives and observers said opposition forces intended to exaggerate the influence of the elections, raising questions about whether they would exert more impact on politics at a higher level with the support of foreign forces. 

Tang believes that the opposition will quickly exert pressure on the Hong Kong police regarding their siege of the Polytechnic University and form a united alliance of district councils to bargain with the HKSAR government, and even the central government, over their so-called five demands.

They may also ask European countries to pass human rights and democracy bills to garner support from the international community and urge the chief executive to step down. They will also demand that the central government reform the election committee as part of their political agenda.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, when asked about the election results during a visit to Japan on Monday, said that no matter what happens, Hong Kong is part of China and any attempt to destabilize Hong Kong or damage Hong Kong's prosperity and stability is doomed to fail.

Following the elections, it remains a real test for elected pan-democratic councillors as to whether their community work will override their political stance, Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, told the Global Times. "Public opinion could be easily influenced or shifted depending on their real work of serving the public on a community basis," he said. 

If they do not serve the people wholeheartedly, they would be abandoned by the electorate, observers said. 

Reflection needed

Hao Shinan, an expert at Shanghai International Studies University, who observes Hong Kong affairs, said that the pro-establishment camp's defeat was caused by issues related to the election cycle under a special political climate. 

He said this does not mean the pro-establishment camp cannot make a comeback, or if the just-concluded elections foreshadow the results of next year's Legislative Council elections.

The pro-establishment camp should remain calm and composed, and seek to cultivate ties at the grassroots level, which is where the party's traditional edge lies, rather than focus on mobilization and election strategies, Hao noted. 

On major issues, pro-establishment parties should stand firm and remain confident in expressing their views, such as saying "no" to violence and supporting legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hao said. 

It should also focus on rallying support from young people to change its traditional image, Hao noted.

Observers noted that the elections showed the obvious disadvantages of the pro-establishment camp, who either couldn't or didn't know how to communicate with younger residents. In the future, they should strengthen youth outreach efforts, and effectively respond to their demands, as it would bring hope to Hong Kong's future.

Some pointed out that the overwhelming support for anti-government forces showed that Hong Kong has been moving away from the central government, as some radical activists, even secessionists, won public support in the elections. 

"There has been some misunderstanding about relations between Hong Kong and the central government. However, 'one country, two systems' will always be the top guideline for both opposition forces and pro-establishment groups," Tam said. 


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