Pro-democracy groups gain ground in Hong Kong election

Published by Al Jazeera
On 5 September 2016 saa 07:05
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Pro-China contingent to continue to dominate city’s legislature despite a strong showing by pro-independence candidates.

Pro-democracy groups have retained their one-third veto bloc in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council (Legco), with the final votes from the election marked by a record turnout still being counted.

Official results for most constituencies show that pro-democracy candidates have won at least 27 seats - three more than required for the power to block attempts by the Hong Kong government to enact unpopular or controversial legislation.

The results released on Monday showed several pro-independence candidates emerging victorious in the weekend’s election - the first since the so-called Umbrella Revolution of 2014.

At some polling stations there were long queues until until 2:30am local time (18:30 Sunday GMT) - four hours later than the scheduled cut-off time - with a turnout of almost 60 percent of 3.7 million voters.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the former student leader of the Umbrella Revolution rallies, was declared a winner on Monday.

Law, 23, contested as a candidate of the Demosisto party, which wants a referendum for Hong Kong residents on whether they should stay part of China.

"I think Hong Kongers really wanted change," he said, celebrating his win. "Young people have a sense of urgency when it comes to the future."

Pro-democracy rallies

Law was a key figure in the 2014 pro-democracy movement, which saw parts of downtown Hong Kong occupied for 79 days in protest against a controversial electoral reform bill.

The city-wide vote was the biggest since mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 and saw candidates fighting for seats in the Legco as concerns grew that China is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

"There have been some emotional scenes here at the election centre as the results came in, bearing out the expected trend that has been predicting the rise of the so-called localist movement," Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Hong Kong, said.

"These new parties and groupings have grown largely out of the Occupy movement two years ago, groups with a very different agenda from the mainstream pro-democracy groups.

"Some key leaders of the pro-democracy parties have lost their seats."

Only 40 out of 70 total seats are directly elected by the public, while special-interest groups representing a range of mostly pro-China businesses and social sectors select the other 30 legislators.

Results as of 5:30am local time showed victories for some young "localist" activists who are pushing for more distance or complete independence from China.

However, the pro-China contingent will continue to dominate the legislature, as they hold on to their seats in the functional constituency.

The proposed law will grant all residents the right to vote for the chief executive in 2017 for the first time, but it also inserts a clause that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee.

Most established pro-democracy politicians do not support the notion of independence and may lose seats to voters who now favour more radical new groups.

"The way the Legislative Council is structured, it still remains effectively a pro-establishment body. But even so, Beijing and Hong Kong will be worried about the results that show how polarised Hong Kong society has become," the Al Jazeera correspondent said.

Sunday’s election was marred by accusations of fraud, an uncommon occurrence in the city that was transferred to Chinese control from Britain in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement.

But Leung Chun-ying, the city’s chief executive, in a statement on Sunday night praised the conduct of the commission in ensuring fair elections.