Chinese state media declared on Monday that the success of pro-democracy candidates in the Hong Kong District Council elections Sunday should end the city’s mass demonstrations against Beijing’s interference.
Despite fears the vote could be disrupted or rigged, opposition candidates made unprecedented gains in Sunday’s district council elections, with 17 of the city’s 18 councils now controlled by pro-democracy candidates. The 18th, Islands district, gave eight of its ten seats to pro-China candidates without putting them on the ballot, thus securing them for the establishment.
Although district councilors hold little regional political power and tend to deal with local issues such as bus routes, the election was widely seen as a referendum on Hong Kong’s pro-China Chief Executive Carrie Lam after months of unrest, protests, and violent attacks on unarmed protesters by pro-communist thugs.
China and pro-Beijing campaigners had hoped the election would show a groundswell of support for a so-called “silent majority,” although this did not materialize, as many of the region’s leading pro-Beijing candidates lost their seats. More than 2.9 million people cast their votes, a turnout of 71 percent compared to 47 percent in 2015.
In an editorial by state propaganda newspaper Global Times, China conceded that pro-democracy candidates defeated their pro-establishment opponents but made its own interpretation of the result. The establishment should avoid becoming “bureaucratic” and harness the alleged anti-protest sentiment in the country, the newspaper claimed.
According to “experts” and “observers” (an implicit reference to the Chinese state), their success is not proof that the majority of Hong Kongers support the ongoing mass demonstrations against communist China but that voters were most interested in ending the violence that has rocked the city since April:
Hong Kong's local elections dominating the front pages of major international publications pic.twitter.com/i19whZNb9s
— Mary Hui (@maryhui) November 25, 2019
Citing Tang Fei, a member of the council of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, the Global Times claimed the vote for pro-democracy candidates “does not mean voters will stand with violence, radicals, and Hong Kong separatists,” declaring that “ending riots and chaos remains the utmost desire shared by Hong Kong society.”
One of the city’s most prominent pro-Beijing lawmakers who lost his seat, Junius Ho, blamed the result on “abnormal” circumstances. Ho became one of the most prominent villains of the protest movement in July, when he arrived on the scene of a vicious gang beating of pro-democracy protesters at the hands of pro-China thugs and proceeded to shake hands and chat with the criminals. Authorities later had to expel him from a legislative session after he berated a pro-democracy lawmaker for marrying a British man, saying she supported pro-democracy protests because she was “used to eating foreign sausage.”
“This is a particular year, as we experience particular elections and have abnormal results,” he said, adding that “heaven and earth have been turned upside down.”
Ho’s defeat triggered champagne-fueled celebrations on the streets of Hong Kong:
Hong Kong democrats romp to a landslide and symbolic majority in district council elections after residents turn out in record numbers to vote following six months of anti-government protests in the embattled city https://t.co/dA10UD4fj0 by @joshjonsmith pic.twitter.com/KsG1s5Pd5u
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 25, 2019
The Times also argued that the outcome was a result of bad election tactics and the pro-China camp’s failure to effectively communicate its message of stability.
“Observers noted that this election showed obvious disadvantages of the pro-establishment camp, who either can’t or don’t know how to communicate with younger residents,” they noted. “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.”