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Pro-democracy camp lifted by big turnout for Hong Kong district polls

2019 District Council election Lai To (Lmmnhn/WikiCommons)
November 25, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Nearly three million people lined up at polling stations across Hong Kong on Sunday, a record turnout for the city’s only fully direct election that looked in the early hours of Monday to be a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates.

Stand News reported at 4.00 a.m. that the pro-democracy camp had won at least 240 confirmed District Council seats — more than half of the total — compared with just 28 seats won by the pro-Beijing camp.

In a poll that has been marred by the disqualification on political grounds of former 2014 student leader Joshua Wong and violent attacks on candidates of all political stripes, voters got to make their views known through the ballot box for the first time since the anti-extradition movement escalated in early June.

Turnout on Sunday was around 71 percent of registered voters, with at least 2.94 million casting a vote, according to the government’s electoral affairs chief Barnabus Fung, compared with just 1.47 million votes cast in 2015.

And the majority seem to be backing the idea of more democracy for the city, according to initial results.

Media footage of counting stations showed huge piles of ballot papers stacked up for pro-democracy candidates, while major pro-Beijing figures lost their seats in droves, local media reported after midnight on Sunday.

The polls come amid widespread public anger at the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam and Beijing’s backing for increasingly violent measures by the Hong Kong police to quell the protests, which broadened from an anti-extradition movement to include calls for fully democratic elections and an independent inquiry into police violence.

If pro-democracy parties win control of the 452-seat District Council, their councilors will also help to elect six lawmakers and take part in closed-circle elections for the post of chief executive.

Voting started at 7:30 a.m., with long lines of voters forming outside polling stations in the New Territories towns of Shatin, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan, and in Taikoo on Hong Kong Island.

Long lines to vote

Some voters waited at least an hour to get to the booth, including a Shatin voter surnamed Lee.

“We have to stand up for what we believe in,” Lee said. “I decided that I definitely had to come out and get this done today.”

“We are voting for Hong Kong’s future, and I think it will have a big impact, so it’s nothing to me to stand in line for one or two hours,” he said.

Joshua Wong called on people around the world to stand with Hong Kong.

“I urge more people around the world to stand with Hong Kong, and more Hongkongers to come out to vote,” Wong said.

“The District Council election is more community-based … focusing more on district issues … instead of the overall Hong Kong political system reform,” he said. “But I still urge people to come out and show our discontent to Beijing.”

As results continued to emerge from counting stations, Wong took to Twitter to claim a “landslide” victory for the pro-democracy camp.

“This is historic,” he wrote. “Early returns suggest a landslide victory for the opposition camp.”

While Wong was unable to stand, his pro-democracy replacement Kelvin Lam won a seat South Horizons West with 57 percent of the vote, beating pro-Beijing incumbent Judy Chan, who is a staunch supporter of the police and who has referred to protesters as “cockroaches,” he said.

“Hong Kongers have spoken out, loud and clear,” he said. “The international community must acknowledge that, almost six months in, public opinion has NOT turned against the movement.”


China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee’s Aug. 31, 2014 ruling that the city could move to one person, one vote as long as candidates were politically vetted sparked the 79-day Occupy Central movement in the same year, and Wong has since served jail time for his role in that movement.

Pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho failed to win re-election in Yuen Long district. Ho has been linked to July 21 attacks on train passengers and others at the hands of triad-backed thugs in the district, and was injured in a stabbing incident on the campaign trail during which the attacker shouted about the triad attacks.

The July 21 attacks in Yuen Long marked a shift in public mood, as police were called, yet did nothing to prevent the violence for more than 30 minutes. Ho was seen shaking hands with some of the attackers on the same night.

Ho admitted thanking the men for “defending their home,” but has denied involvement in the attacks. His office has been vandalized several times since, and his parents’ graves desecrated.

Ho’s wounding came after a man with a knife attacked two people in Tai Koo, before biting off the ear of district councilor Andrew Chiu.

Jimmy Sham, the head of pro-democracy march organizers the Civil Human Rights Front who suffered head injuries after being attacked by men wielding hammers last month, won his District Council seat.

In Kowloon’s Sham Shui Po district, scene of street battles between local residents and riot police earlier in the year, altercations broke out after unidentified men showed up and took photos of people standing in line to vote without showing press ID.

“I saw some suspicious-looking people with cameras who kept taking photos outside the disabled toilet so I went over to take a look and they were taking headshots of people,” an eyewitness told RFA. “I said what are you doing?”

The two men said they didn’t speak Cantonese, the lingua franca of Hong Kong, and one of them claimed to be a journalist, he said.

“‘Are you tourists or journalists?’ I asked them,” he said, then bystanders started calling on the men to show press ID and to delete the photos from their phones.

Claim to be a journalist

Police arrived and told the men to leave after checking their documents, they said.

The Apple Daily newspaper said a similar incident had been reported in Shatin after a man was confronted for shooting video of voters.

However, his claim to be a journalist went unchallenged, and he kept on filming, the paper said.

A woman was also confronted by local residents after filming voters at around 8 a.m. in Tin Shui Wai, but she was able to produce a press card issued by Guangdong Southern TV, it said.

Meanwhile, iconic protester Alexandra Wong, also known as Grandma Wong, who was present at each of the earlier protests waving a British flag, was unable to vote.

“Because I was detained in Shenzhen, my ballot has become a wasted paper,” Wong wrote in a message later reposted to the protest movement Facebook page Lennon Wall.

“This breaks my heart. Please help add oil for me and vote. All the Best!!! Be Safe!!!” wrote Wong, who protesters said via social media is currently out on bail. Wong is a Hongkonger who lives in the neighboring mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen.