Protests against a Beijing-backed national education plan that brought out tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents into the streets in recent weeks appeared to have a less-than-expected impact on Sunday’s local elections, with close to sixty per cent of the seats going to candidates seen as being supportive of closer links to Beijing.
Pro-democratic candidates did, however, win 27 seats out of the 70 in the Legislative Council that were being contested in Sunday’s elections. The victory was enough for the parties, which have backed recent protests and are also behind a push to ensure direct elections by 2017, to hold on to their crucial veto power in the assembly, which requires 24 seats.
Protests in recent weeks, which brought out an estimated 120,000 people on Friday, were directed specifically at a plan to make a Beijing-supported national education curriculum mandatory. They were,
also, sourced in wider anxieties about the influence of the mainland amid concerns about widening income gaps and the rising number of migrants.
Despite the protests, pro-democratic candidates won only around half of the 40 seats that were decided directly by voters. In Hong Kong’s system, the remaining 30 seats are chosen by business and political representatives, most of whom are seen as pro-establishment.
Of these seats, 26 were won by candidates who favour closer links with Beijing. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress for Hong Kong, which is the biggest pro-Beijing party, retained its standing as the largest party winning all the nine seats it contested.
Among the pro-democratic parties, there appeared to be a shift towards more radical groups, leading to concerns that the Legislative Assembly, which will grapple with the task of paving the way forward for direct elections, may become more divided.
The moderate Democratic Party fared disappointingly, leading to Chairman Albert Ho saying he would step down after the party won only four of 35 seats. The more radical of the pan-democrats saw increased support, the South China Morning Post reported. People Power, which has called for more vociferous protests, won four seats, reflecting the momentum of the recent protest movement.
The mixed results that emerged from the elections were, nevertheless, seen as encouraging signs, for at least two reasons, by parties that are campaigning for direct elections to be introduced by 2017 including for choosing the Chief Executive, which Beijing has agreed to but without a specific timetable. Presently, the Chief Executive is chosen by an election committee of 1,200 business representatives and members of the political elite.
For one, the 27 seats won by the pro-democratic parties allowed them to retain a veto over any constitutional issues that the Legislative Council will decide. Also, the turnout in Sunday’s elections, which saw 1.83 million cast their votes, was a record for legislative assembly elections since the handover, the South China Morning Post reported. The 53 per cent voting for seats that were directly elected was the highest in Hong Kong’s history, representing an eight per cent rise from elections four years ago.