A victory for democracy in Hong Kong
November 25, 2019 4:16 AM   Subscribe

After five months of sometimes violent protests (previously, previouslier), residents of Hong Kong had a chance to vote in district elections over the weekend. The district councillors mostly deal with issues like bus routes and rubbish collection, but the vote was widely seen as a referendum on pro-democracy protestors versus pro-Beijing government and police forces. With record-high turnout of 71.2%, pro-democracy candidates won a massive victory (warning: autoplay video).

The win gives democrats an extra 117 seats on the 1,200 member Election Committee which chooses the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

The protestors have five key demands:
  1. Full withdrawal of the extradition bill
  2. A commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality
  3. Retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters”
  4. Amnesty for arrested protesters
  5. Dual universal suffrage, meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive
posted by clawsoon (35 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
A commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality

Alleged, sheesh. I can see that brutality from all the way in Minnesota!
posted by bile and syntax at 5:46 AM on November 25, 2019 [11 favorites]


Do you suppose Xi Jinping will now accept those demands?
posted by acb at 5:59 AM on November 25, 2019


I live in Hong Kong and this election has been a very big deal. People were genuinely excited today in a way I haven't seen in months, and a few of my favourite cafes and bars made no secret today of their leanings; they were offering celebratory discounts! It was particularly delicious watching the very unpleasant Junius Ho stagger out of the count astounded he had lost.

What remains to be seen is how China responds. Yes, this is a victory for democracy, but one that takes place under our current non-democratic system, a system that suits local elites and Beijing just fine. Like every other colony, Hong Kong's relationship to its rulers has never been simply one of radical freedom or abject subjugation. Like every other colony, there have always been shades of dependence on and tolerance for dissent from Britain or China.

For example, Joshua Wong was disqualified because (officially) the government was unsatisfied that he did not sufficiently distance himself from calls for self-determination (but unofficially because Beijing is never going to allow him to be elected to any public office), but is still free (for now) and speaks publicly often. A non-Beijing-approved Chief Executive is basically impossible to conceive of under our current model for 'electing' them, yet global political and corporate acceptance of the model of One Country, Two Systems entirely depends on the illusion that Hong Kongers determine much of their own affairs. Our housing crisis is the result of many decisions over the years, but many of them are rooted in the pre-1997 Small House Policy and more recently, some suggest, in the One-Way Permit system.

The way out, of course, is a government far more responsive to the people and our needs (less pollution! better elder care! a less-pressurised education system! LGBT+ rights!) than the one we have now. Sunday's vote is part of this, but Hong Kong's de-/re-colonisation is unique and, I think, unprecedented in modern times; it's hard to see, right now, where we go next.

A final note: District Councils do have significant power, contrary to what you might assume if you're thinking of your local town council in Europe or North America - the scale of most districts here is equivalent to a large city in other countries (more people live in my district than in all of Iceland, for example). Read this letter from an SCMP reader on the Wan Chai District Council's January 2019 rejection of a plan to deconstruct Hong Kong Stadium for some insight into how this new crop of councillors might end up being rather revolutionary after all.
posted by mdonley at 6:05 AM on November 25, 2019 [75 favorites]


Would Beijing be able to get away with declarations of "rampant voting irregularities" and getting a recount that miraculously re-installs enough loyalists to flip the balance back? Or is the power swing just too wide for a move like that to even come close to appearing legitimate?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:21 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is a reminder of why we should never take for granted our rights to vote and to exercise this part of the democratic process whenever we are given an opportunity. Voting matters. Activism matters.

I hope for all the best for the people who are fighting back.
posted by Fizz at 6:35 AM on November 25, 2019 [17 favorites]


I'm wondering what comes next for the protestors. Is the mood that they should give the protests a break now that they have a win, give everyone time to clean up and refresh, or is the mood that they should keep pushing, keep protesting, keep the pressure on?
posted by clawsoon at 6:37 AM on November 25, 2019


Would Beijing be able to get away with declarations of "rampant voting irregularities" and getting a recount that miraculously re-installs enough loyalists to flip the balance back? Or is the power swing just too wide for a move like that to even come close to appearing legitimate?

Many races were close, but so many were utter blowouts and the vote so well-documented that I think going back from Sunday's vote would be impossible.

Now, will all the elected folks take their oaths 'correctly'? Will the powers of the District Councils stay the same or be minimised? Will the government simply ignore the advice of District Councils that oppose them? How will the pro-Beijing figures in the government navigate being in opposition for once? The real power play is not in the election itself but in the rules-lawyering of the newly-elected pan-dem councillors' carrying-out of their jobs. China is very good at this sort of harassment, and after all, political parties here are just companies like any other; who is to say how much money the CCP will 'invest' in getting its way here?

Remember that free and clean elections are one of those things that support our claim that we have the rule of law. China uses this to its advantage - not just cynically, either. The city is a hub for IPOs and contracts and mediation and all manner of other legal and financial dealings because of our elections can be trusted.
posted by mdonley at 6:38 AM on November 25, 2019 [21 favorites]


Thorzdad: Would Beijing be able to get away with declarations of "rampant voting irregularities" and getting a recount that miraculously re-installs enough loyalists to flip the balance back?

From the BBC link:
Outside the Yau Ma Tei North polling station, local residents lined up to gain entry so they could watch the vote count. The doors opened and they poured into the public viewing area.

Six months into an ongoing political crisis, people have lost faith in government institutions. They wanted to make sure that this process was fair and transparent.
So hopefully not?
posted by clawsoon at 6:42 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


Is the mood that they should give the protests a break now that they have a win, give everyone time to clean up and refresh, or is the mood that they should keep pushing, keep protesting, keep the pressure on?

My fear would be that, if they were to keep up the protests following this amazing vote, Beijing would declare something like "See? These scoundrels were always about nothing but unlawful disruption, and not democracy!" and sweep them away.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:46 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering what comes next for the protestors.

It depends on the government's reaction, I think; without a meaningful constitutional settlement I have every inclination to think they will continue to evolve. The locations and the means may have to change - the Polytechnic University and the Chinese University, in particular, are in need of repairs, and the violence was escalating to a point where more people were going to be injured or killed.

Yet the underlying issues remain unresolved. The legal cases against individual protestors will continue their way through the courts. The legality of the Mask Ban will eventually be decided. There is still no independent inquiry into police brutality and no restarting of the process of reexamining the electoral system. The MTR still has not resolved to the public's satisfaction what happened at Prince Edward station on the night of August 31st. The police remain deeply distrusted. Boycotts of pro-Beijing businesses continue. Tourism levels have plummeted and we're entering a recession.

In a more democratic system, the government's credibility would be so destroyed by now that there would have been some sort of movement: new elections, resignations or impeachments, some sort of large-scale negotiations...and in a less democratic system, we would have seen the movement crushed, tanks on the street and the end of any semblance of independent administration. But we are stuck in the middle for the foreseeable future.
posted by mdonley at 6:49 AM on November 25, 2019 [13 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, the popular vote went 57.34% to pro-democracy candidates and 41.82% to pro-Beijing candidates. The South China Morning Post link says that:
The tsunami of disaffection among voters was clear across the board, as pan-democrats rode the wave to win big in poor and rich neighbourhoods, in both protest-prone and non-protest-afflicted districts and, in downtown areas as well as the suburbs.
posted by clawsoon at 7:01 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


If even extremely pro-establishment SCMP columnist Alex Lo is using his SCMP column to suggest Carrie Lam 'be allowed to resign', we are truly in uncharted territory.

What are the priorities and what needs to be changed? The peace and orderliness of Sunday’s elections show that rioters and protesters can behave themselves if they want to. The overwhelming priority is to encourage them to continue to keep the peace. The second priority is to stop the haemorrhaging within the pro-government camp.

How? Well, government heads will have to roll. Beijing has made a serious mistake in keeping Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Along with secretaries for justice and security Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and John Lee Ka-chiu, Lam should be allowed to resign.

It’s clear the trio are too toxic for the current government to continue. Their presence will damage the pro-establishment parties for years to come, starting with the next Legco election. They should apologise to the public and thank the police for doing the job of an absentee government in the past six months.

posted by mdonley at 7:05 AM on November 25, 2019 [8 favorites]


Is the mood that they should give the protests a break now that they have a win, give everyone time to clean up and refresh, or is the mood that they should keep pushing, keep protesting, keep the pressure on?

Protesters collectively decided to temporarily suspend protest action to give election day breathing room. So there's already been a brief lull. There are good logistical reasons to take a wait-and-see approach, too; in the wake of the PolyU siege, it sounds like a lot of people need some downtime. I think the ball is temporarily in the government's court.
posted by chrominance at 8:24 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am so elated by this outcome. According to Foreign Policy editor James Palmer the government thought they were, for whatever reason, going to win the elections. Which suggests that they bought into their own propaganda and/or no one feels free to tell the truth to leadership.
posted by toastyk at 8:25 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


According to Foreign Policy editor James Palmer the government thought they were, for whatever reason, going to win the elections.

This response has a plausible explanation, suggesting that they were counting on the usual low turnout. I wouldn't be surprised if the polls were at least close in the among-people-who-usually-vote category.

The other explanation offered, that Chinese leadership has become divorced from reality because authoritarian leadership that punishes the messenger stops truth from climbing the hierarchy, also seems plausible.
posted by clawsoon at 9:07 AM on November 25, 2019 [5 favorites]


According to Foreign Policy editor James Palmer the government thought they were, for whatever reason, going to win the elections. Which suggests that they bought into their own propaganda and/or no one feels free to tell the truth to leadership.

That's absurd. Are internal polls not a thing? Mingpao had been commissioning monthly public opinion polls from CUHK (and people blamed the government more than the protesters), and HKPORI (formerly HKUPOP) had been tracking approval ratings for decades (they've gone down the gutter). The numbers were ugly and they had to have known.
posted by The arrows are too fast at 9:12 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


The only stories I'm finding on the front page of People's Daily about Hong Kong written after the election are, Any attempt to destabilize Hong Kong doomed to failure: Chinese state councilor, and, Hong Kong celebrities call for voters to fulfill duties, oppose violence. Nothing at all about the results. Maybe they really didn't have the stories written?
posted by clawsoon at 9:18 AM on November 25, 2019


China tries to brush off pro-democracy victory in Hong Kong election: State news agency Xinhua refuses even to report pro-establishment side’s heavy losses and reports only that the elections have taken place
posted by clawsoon at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


The most awesome result of the election, to me, was that the vast majority of voters and people in HK given the high turnout - was that locals still cared deeply about their city. That the protesters were not some sort of marginalized group (a common narrative I hear among many people here in Vancouver), but represented the aspirations of a huge and vibrant city.

Hong Kongers are some of the most pragmatic people in the world, and that they are willing to live with disruptions to their daily lives, and stand up to an authoritarian regime is amazing. Economic stability has always been the carrot to keep HK citizenry in line, but enough is enough. Good for them!
posted by helmutdog at 1:17 PM on November 25, 2019 [5 favorites]


Jesus Christ it's good to read some good news. Especially given how bad the news I expected to come out of this situation was.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:26 PM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


in the wake of the PolyU siege

There are still people in there.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:58 PM on November 25, 2019


There are still people in there.

Sorry, yes, this is true, there's still maybe a hundred people in the campus and no obvious solution in sight. I didn't mean to imply the siege was over, my apologies.
posted by chrominance at 5:33 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


James Palmer has written up the twitter threads previously mentioned into a full article for Foreign Policy. Well worth a read.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:12 PM on November 25, 2019 [5 favorites]


Both the CCP leadership and ordinary mainlanders are also given to a crude Marxist analysis that sees material interests as dominant and finds ideological ones—especially those opposed to the CCP—hard to process. (the FP article)

Now I wanna know what the sophisticated Marxist analysis is
posted by polymodus at 9:41 PM on November 25, 2019


The other explanation offered, that Chinese leadership has become divorced from reality because authoritarian leadership that punishes the messenger stops truth from climbing the hierarchy, also seems plausible.

As Robert Anton Wilson wrote, communication is only possible between equals.
posted by acb at 1:13 AM on November 26, 2019


Sorry, yes, this is true, there's still maybe a hundred people in the campus and no obvious solution in sight. I didn't mean to imply the siege was over, my apologies.


They might have actually left this morning? I can't find any actual information about it except this Reddit thread.
posted by Literaryhero at 1:49 AM on November 26, 2019


polymodus: Now I wanna know what the sophisticated Marxist analysis is

The ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling class?
posted by clawsoon at 5:36 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]



This response has a plausible explanation, suggesting that they were counting on the usual low turnout. I wouldn't be surprised if the polls were at least close in the among-people-who-usually-vote category.

The other explanation offered, that Chinese leadership has become divorced from reality because authoritarian leadership that punishes the messenger stops truth from climbing the hierarchy, also seems plausible.


The third possibility is that they expected vote tampering to work. Any missing ballot transportation boxes found lately?
posted by pwnguin at 6:50 PM on November 26, 2019


I'm not any sort of expert on Chinese history or philosophy, but the description of the Chinese Communists' reliance on carrots and sticks in the crude Marxist analysis link from the Foreign Policy article kinda reminds me of the First Emperor and Legalism: Since people always and only act on their self-interest, you just have to make the stick big enough and surely no-one will ever be tempted to break the law or rebel.

IIRC, part of the breakdown of that system came when high officials realized that they could get their rivals killed using corruption accusations.
posted by clawsoon at 7:36 PM on November 26, 2019


Sorry, not corruption accusations - treason accusations.
posted by clawsoon at 7:50 PM on November 26, 2019


After a brief pause for the election, it looks like the protests are on again. “Don’t forget our original intention.”
posted by clawsoon at 8:14 AM on December 1, 2019




I'm eager to see how many folks turn out on Sunday, but also very hesitant to go back to the frankly traumatic experiences of the last few months, from that guy shot a block from my house to hearing the shouts of the messengers and lookouts telling people where the cops are in nightly pitched battles to just the general impossibility of relaxation or predictability. On Sunday I'm planning on being in the march area (it's hard to avoid the bits of the city where everything I want to do is...) and I'd like to make it to my evening plans without incident.

One worrying element of the Letter of No Objection (the police permission letter for the protest) is that marchers are not allowed to desecrate SAR or Chinese flags. There aren't loads of flags en route just sitting around, but people are going to make posters and there will be banners and signs. I worry that it might take just a few police to imagine they see an image of a flag not appropriately, uh, secrated for them to start charging/kettling/driving into the main wave of protestors in one of the more skyscraper-canyon-y parts of the march, instigating a stampede. Last Sunday, tear gas was fired at a march which had been approved by the police. Who even knows anymore. Sigh.
posted by mdonley at 8:00 AM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sounds like it's a massive and basically peaceful protest march so far; any reports from the inside?

What will the protestors' statement that this is the "last chance" to meet their demands mean?
posted by clawsoon at 4:22 AM on December 8, 2019


I recently attended a screening of Umbrella Diaries: The First Umbrella (trailer), which chronicles the beginning of the Umbrella Movement in 2014. Recommended viewing, if it pops up anywhere near you. It's shot in such a way that you feel like you're in the midst of things.

My heart broke at so many things in this film: the optimism of Occupy Central with Love and Peace ("if we have the numbers, the government must recognize our demands for civil nomination"); the resourcefulness of protestors using clingfilm as improvised safety glasses; the resignation of Joshua Wong (17 at the time!) over his likely arrest; the frustration of some students over the tactics of OCLP. But I think what got me the most was the relative civility of the HK police. Even the riot cops they sent in hadn't yet adopted paramilitary trappings, as they have today.

It seems like so much, and yet nothing, has changed in the intervening five years.
posted by invokeuse at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


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