After months of mass pro-democracy demonstrations and sometimes violent crackdowns by police, the people of Hong Kong have voted overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates.
- 71% of eligible voters turned out to vote, despite rumors of possible action by pro-Beijing forces to obstruct the voting.
- Hong Kong’s Democratic Party won 90% of local council seats in the vote.
- Pro-democracy candidates won 278 seats, while pro-Beijing candidates won only 42.
The ongoing mass demonstrations started when the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, proposed legislation that would allow for extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. The move was seen as an effort to skirt Hong Kong’s more independent judiciary and undermine democracy in the territory.
Initial protests demanded the permanent revocation of the bill, but Lam responded by suspending it temporarily. Eventually, as protests intensified, the bill was formally withdrawn, but police action and threats from Beijing, including mobilization of military forces along the mainland border, made clear democracy itself was facing an existential threat.
Protesters issued a list of 5 concrete demands:
- Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process. (The bill was formally withdrawn on 23 October.)
- Retraction of the “riot” characterisation. (Pro-Beijing government treated protests as ‘riots’ after police attacked protesters.)
- Release and exoneration of arrested protesters. (Arrests of protest organizers have been treated as political persecution, and Beijing has been accused of orchestrating the illegal harvesting of medical data to identify protesters in hospitals who were being treated for injuries caused by police violence.)
- Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct and use of force during the protests. (Protest leaders, as well as independent human rights groups, identified a number of illegal actions taken by police in using violence against unarmed civilians.)
- Resignation of Carrie Lam and the implementation of universal suffrage for legislative council elections and for the election of the chief executive.
The United States House of Representatives voted 417-1 to support the Hong Kong protesters. The Senate followed with a unanimous vote. That means President Trump cannot veto the legislation to help Beijing without Congress overriding his veto.
The landslide pro-democracy vote effectively closes the argument that there is a “silent majority” that opposed the cause of the pro-democracy demonstrators. It also puts Beijing in the spotlight in a very direct way:
- China has sought to insinuate it would take an iron fist approach to any effort to move toward full democracy, but has also sought to appear as not pulling the strings of local leaders.
- It is now evident that the leadership of China’s authoritarian system of government will have to deal more effectively and openly with democratic process in Hong Kong. Any failure to do so will reveal Beijing’s leadership to be ill-suited to their own role, in full view of the world.