World

'Democratic tsunami': Hong Kong pro-democracy camp dominates local elections

Hong Kong's pro-democracy candidates romped to a landslide and symbolic majority in district council elections after residents turned out in record numbers on Sunday to vote following six months of anti-government protests in the embattled territory.

Some winning candidates say result was akin to a vote of support for protesters

Pro-democracy candidate Jimmy Sham, right, celebrates with a supporter after winning his election in Hong Kong on early Monday. Sham is a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the anti-government rallies. (Vincent Thian/Associated Press)

Hong Kong's pro-democracy candidates romped to a landslide and symbolic majority in district council elections after residents turned out in record numbers on Sunday to vote following six months of anti-government protests in the embattled territory.

In a rare weekend lull in the unrest that has rocked the financial hub, pro-democracy candidates across the city of 7.4 million people secured more than half of the 452 district council seats for the first time against a strongly resourced and mobilized pro-establishment opposition.

When the results began trickling in after midnight local time on Monday, including upset wins for democrats against heavyweight pro-Beijing opponents, some voting centres erupted in loud cheers and chants of "Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution now," a slogan used by many protesters on the streets over the past six months.

Some winning candidates said the result was akin to a vote of support for the demonstrators and could raise the heat on Hong Kong's pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, amid the city's worst political crisis in decades.

"This is the power of democracy. This is a democratic tsunami," said Tommy Cheung, a former student protest leader who won a seat in the Yuen Long district close to China's border.

The voting ended with no major disruptions in a day that saw massive, though orderly, queues form outside voting centres.

Election workers empty a ballot box to count votes at a polling station in Hong Kong on Sunday. Almost three million people voted on Sunday, almost doubling the number for turnout four years ago. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Pro-democracy candidates had secured a clear majority by 8 a.m. local time on Monday with 390 of 452 seats, according to local broadcaster RTHK. Democrats only secured around 100 seats at the previous polls four years ago.

Almost three million people voted, a record turnout of more than 71 per cent that appeared to have been spurred by the turmoil, almost double the number last time.

Hong Kong's district councils control some spending and decide a range of livelihood issues such as transport. They also serve as an important grassroots platform to radiate political influence in the Chinese-ruled territory.

'Path of struggle'

"I believe this result is because there are a lot of voters who hope to use this election and their vote to show their support for the [protest] movement, and their five demands, and their dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong government," said former student leader Lester Shum, who won a seat.

The protesters' demands include full democracy, as well as an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality.

"The district council is just one very important path of struggle. In future, we must find other paths of struggle to keep fighting," Shum said.

People line up to vote outside of a polling place in Hong Kong on Sunday. The voting ended with no major disruptions in a day that saw massive, though orderly, queues form outside voting centres. (Vincent Yu/Associated Press)

The state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Monday the election "will hopefully have served as an opportunity to return the city to normal."

"The relative tranquillity the city enjoyed since several days before the election suggests all stakeholders regarded it as an opportunity to air their views," the editorial read.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are also responding to perceived police brutality.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula for the autonomy of Hong Kong put in place in 1997. Police say they have shown restraint in the face of potentially deadly attacks.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam casts her ballot at a polling place in Hong Kong on Sunday. Some winning candidates said the results could raise the heat on Lam. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Jimmy Sham, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the anti-government rallies, won his electoral contest, as did Kelvin Lam, who stood in after prominent activist Joshua Wong was barred from running.

A number of pro-Beijing heavyweights including Junius Ho, whose abrasive public comments have made him a hate-figure among many protesters, lost to pro-democracy challengers. He described it on Facebook as "an exceptional election, and an unusual result."

The protests started over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial but rapidly evolved into calls for full democracy, posing the biggest populist challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now