Hong Kong’s democrats scored a landslide majority in district council elections, which saw a record turnout after six months of anti-government protests, increasing pressure on the city’s embattled leader on Monday to listen to pro-democracy calls.
Sunday’s elections marked a rare weekend lull in the unrest that has rocked the financial hub. Democratic candidates across the city of 7.4 million people secured nearly 90% of the 452 district council seats, broadcaster RTHK reported, despite a strongly resourced and mobilized pro-establishment opposition.
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam said in a statement the government respected the results and wished “the peaceful, safe and orderly situation to continue”.
“There are various analyses and interpretations in the community in relation to the results, and quite a few are of the view that the results reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society,” she said.
The government would “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect”, Lam said.
Results showed upset wins for democrats against heavyweight pro-Beijing opponents when they started trickling in after midnight on Sunday, causing some voting centers to erupt in loud cheers and chants of “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution Now” - a slogan used by many protesters 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 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 centers.
“This district election shows that the central government needs to face the demands of a democratic system,” Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said. “Today’s result is the first step of our long way to democracy.”
The pro-democracy camp only secured around 100 seats at the previous polls four years ago. Almost three million people voted, a record turnout of more than 71% that appeared to have been spurred by the turmoil, almost double the number last time.
Starry Lee, chairwoman of the city’s largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, apologized for her party’s performance.
“For this major defeat, we do not want to find any excuses and reasons,” said Lee. She said the party rejected her offer to resign earlier on Monday.
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 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.