HK local election: implications

A swing towards pro-democracy camp is certain - but just how big?

Adam Ni, visiting scholar at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University.

Today is HK’s highly anticipated local election day. Across 18 local districts and 452 seats, voters will make their voice heard in a referendum on HK’s protest movement and the HK government’s response. A shift of support from the pro-establishment (ie., pro-Beijing) to pro-democracy camp is certain. The question is whether the swing will be large enough for the opposition to get a major (240 seats). The side with the majority gets to decide the 117 District Councillors that would sit on the 1,200 member (Beijing-dominated) committee that elects HK’s Chief Executive.


Hey folks, today is a big day for HK. Local elections are happening now and we are looking at unprecedented voter turnout and a strong swing against pro-establishment candidates. There were concerns in the leadup that the election would be cancelled due to security, but things have settled a little in HK in the last 48 hours or so, and so far we have not seen violence or disturbances today.

The local council elections have traditionally focused on local matters. But today’s vote is different given the highly-politicised context of the continuing protests.

The pro-establishment camp is good at election mobilisation, but at the same time, political disengagement and indifference benefit them. For the 2015 District Council election, 68 constituencies were decided by default. This time around, every seat is hotly contested.

Why does this election matter?

  1. It is a referendum on HK protests and the government’s response. A strong shift against the pro-establishment camp will be a strong message against Carrie Lam and Beijing. If the swing is small, then the message would be that voters are tired of continued protest.

  2. Demonstrates how engaged HKers are politically, and how successful pro-democracy forces have been at political mobilisation.

  3. If the pro-democracy camp can get a majority of 240 seats (452 seats elected, 27 ex officio members representing rural area), then in a winner-takes-all fashion they get to send the 117 District Councillors that would sit on the 1,200 members (Beijing-dominated) committee that elects HK’s Chief Executive. This will complicate Beijing’s effort at selecting the next Chief Executive.

No sign of down-ramping

The nature of the protest movement has transformed since June, from one that focused narrowly on the withdraw of the bill, to broad movement with five demands:

  1. formal withdraw of the extradition bill (done)

  2. an independent inquiry into police conduct

  3. withdraw the label of “riot” for protests

  4. release and drop charges against the arrested protesters

  5. implementation of genuine universal suffrage

The public’s focus is now overwhelmingly on police violence and the future of their city given Beijing’s increasing encroachment. Despite the escalating violence, most HKers still support the protest movement and the five demands. What they differ on is how to achieve the five demands. You probably have heard of the saying that roughly translates into “we climb one mountain but in our own ways” 兄弟爬山, 各自努力.

HKers are united in their aspirations, but divided in their methods.

Despite this unity of purpose among HKers, all indications from Beijing and Carrie Lam make me thinking that a compromise is unlikely any time soon. Implementing genuine universal suffrage is out of the question for Beijing, and even an independent inquiry into police conduct is seen as a weak retreat that could embolden protesters.

In the absence of a short-term solution to the crisis, they have employed state violence instead of addressing the root contradiction: Beijing wants tighter control of HK while HKers want to keep their rights.

However, Beijing’s long term HK strategy is becoming increasingly clear. It will be based on the use of all elements of state power to suppress resistance, tighten control, and integrate HK into the PRC’s political system.

More on HK

I’m excited about two new books coming out on HK: Antony Dapiran’s City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong, and Jeff Wasserstrom’s Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink, both out early next year. I have learnt heaps about HK from both Antony and Jeff.

Also if you want to stay up-to-date with developments in HK. I highly recommend Antony’s A Procrastination, an email newsletter from Hong Kong: a City on Fire. Antony’s newsletter is personal, reflective and a pleasure to read.


China Neican decodes China issues through concise, timely, and policy-focused analyses.