A new force emerges in Hong Kong’s politics Participants in huge pro-democracy protests a year ago make a mark in neighbourhood elections



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Hong Kong

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A new force emerges in Hong Kong’s politics

Participants in huge pro-democracy protests a year ago make a mark in neighbourhood elections

Nov 24th 2015 | Hong Kong | China



A YEAR ago thousands of demonstrators staged more than 11 weeks of sit-ins on busy streets in Hong Kong in the most sustained street campaign for democratic reform ever mounted in the territory. In the first election since then, held on November 22nd, a record 47% of the 3.1m people eligible to vote did so, to choose representatives to serve in District Councils which advise the government on a wide range of issues, especially matters relating to public services. The results showed that the territory remains deeply divided over last year’s upheaval. Hong Kong’s hugely unpopular chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, will take little comfort.

The councils, which have 431 seats (68 of them were uncontested), are the lowest tier of elected representation in Hong Kong. But despite their marginal role in the running of the territory (they have small budgets which they can spend on local events, such as festivals), elections to them are still closely watched as an indicator of political sentiment: they are freely contested, without the kind of gerrymandering that skews the outcomes of other elections in the territory in favour of pro-government candidates. Previously, some District Council seats were filled by government appointees. Not this time, however. As usual, the campaign turned into a shouting match between pro-democracy politicians and those sympathetic towards Hong Kong’s government and its backers in Beijing.

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The results were mixed. Despite the organisational skills their opponents usually display at this level of politics, the pro-democracy camp made a few, but striking, gains. About 50 participants in last year’s “umbrella movement”, as the sit-ins were dubbed (demonstrators used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray), were among the 935 people who campaigned for seats. These “umbrella soldiers”, as such activists are often described, secured at least eight seats.

Among those they defeated were two prominent incumbents, Elizabeth Quat and Christopher Chung, who are members of the largest political party, the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). The two also have seats in the Legislative Council (Legco)—the DAB may struggle to retain these in Legco polls next year. 

The DAB’s losses, however, may also be a sign of dissatisfaction with the party within the pro-government camp. Some of the DAB’s usual backers were angered by a botched walkout from Legco staged by DAB members in June. That action resulted in a crushing defeat for government-backed political reforms which leaders in Beijing had been touting as a fulfilment of their promise to grant “universal suffrage” in the territory, but which pro-democracy activists viewed as a sham.

Overall, candidates supportive of the Communist Party in Beijing still did well. Of the 363 seats contested, they secured 191, up from 160. The Democratic Party, the largest pro-democracy group, won 43 seats, four fewer than it held before. A former chairman of the party, Albert Ho, and its vice chairman, Andrew Wan, were among those defeated. Mr Ho faced five contenders, who sometimes joined forces to jeer at him through loudhailers when he made speeches to voters.

The results mean that District Councils will remain under the control of pro-government politicians. But they also showed that the pro-democracy movement remains a force to be reckoned with. Where a single pro-democracy candidate faced a single pro-government opponent, about 55% of the votes went to the pro-democracy contender.

If this is replicated in next year’s Legco election, the pro-democracy camp will have a good chance of keeping control of at least one-third of its seats—enough to give them a veto over any future effort by the government to secure political reform on the Communist Party’s terms. In 2017 there will be a tightly controlled competition for the post of chief executive (designed to prevent pro-democracy candidates from getting anywhere near the finishing post). Umbrella activists will use that selection process as another opportunity to show their strength—possibly again on the streets. They have yet to prove, however, that the public is strongly behind them.



Hong Kong’s politics

A snub to the party

Legislators veto China’s plans for political change

Jun 20th 2015 | HONG KONG | From the print edition









POLITICAL bodies in China rarely defy the will of the Communist Party. On June 18th, however, the legislature in Hong Kong (known as Legco) vetoed the party’s plans for what had been touted as momentous political reform in the former colony. Twenty-eight of the body’s 70 members voted against the proposal, calling it a sham. But that leaves Hong Kong no closer to achieving democracy. And as noisy demonstrations by rival groups outside the debating chamber suggested, public opinion is deeply divided.



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