Hong Kong protest movement has not won yet

A few pro-democratic district council members shook hands with small eyes on Monday. They followed the Hong Kong election results all night long and to their own surprise they were pretty much all elected. But they don’t have much time for congratulations. The feeling prevails: they have won a battle, but not the war. And the latter could become very difficult.

The local vote on Sunday in Hong Kong was one for the history books, with a record registration of 4 million voters, a record turnout of 71.2 percent and a pro-democratic record victory of 85 percent of the seats. From 118 seats after the 2015 elections, pro-democrats have risen to 386 seats, more than three times as many. The pro-Beijing parties, on the other hand, traditionally dominant in the district councils, have fallen from 327 to 57 seats.

It is a landslide, an electoral revolution, with a clear message: even though the protests are accompanied by violence, they are widely supported by the Hong Kong population. “The voters did not say no to violence, but no to Carrie Lam,” said Michael Chugani, a well-known Hong Kong journalist and commentator. “They are not for violence, but more for violence than they are for Carrie Lam. And they are more against communist China than violence. ”

But after the historic victory, the question now is how to turn that message into concrete results, so that the victory does not remain merely symbolic. That is not going to be that easy. The district councils are the lowest organs of Hong Kong politics and only have an advisory role. In addition, many of the newly elected councilors are young and inexperienced. Their opponent, chief executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s top leader, is known for its inflexibility.

The ball is in Carrie Lam’s camp, pro-democratic politicians say Monday. They have been campaigning for months with five demands, one of which has been granted with the repeal of the controversial extradition law. Now they also want the rest: first of all, the establishment of an independent investigation into police violence during the protests. Then the introduction of direct elections for the chief executive, so that they are accountable to the population, rather than to Beijing.

Only nobody believes that Lam will fulfill those demands. Even if she wanted to, she probably couldn’t agree. Lam is not only answerable to Beijing, but according to many observers meanwhile also to the police, who she has used to do her dirty work. There are so many reports and even images of excessive police violence that it seems a deliberate tactic to boycott the protests. “If there is an investigation, the police will be furious,” says Chugani. “Then you might even get mutiny.”

If a police investigation is already a bridge too far, the introduction of direct elections is completely unthinkable. After all, that is diametrically opposed to the Beijing strategy to increase control over Hong Kong. “President Xi Jinping has hardened his policy toward Hong Kong,” said Willy Lam, political expert at Hong Kong’s Chinese University. “He has proposed plans to slow down Hong Kong’s autonomy and the” one country, two systems “principle.”

According to many observers, what Beijing will do is sacrifice Carrie Lam, who is seen as the initiator of the extradition law as the source of all misery. She will not have to leave immediately, that would be too great a loss of vision, but probably in a few months. If the elections for the Legislative Council (the parliament) arrive next year, for example. Chugani: “By spring they will find an excuse for Carrie Lam to leave.”

But Carrie Lam replaced a new confidant from Beijing, which is not exactly what the protesters are asking for. If they really want influence, pro-democratic politicians must rise. From the district councils they can compete for seats in the Legislative Council, or in the 1,200-strong committee that elects the new chief executive. “That is harder than the district councils, but not impossible,” says Willy Lam. “Especially now that they are taking advantage of the momentum.”

What also helps is that the Hong Kong protest movement will receive extra resources as a result of the election victory. “As a district councilor, pro-democratic politicians receive a salary and an office,” said Ivan Choy, political scientist at the Hong Kong Chinese University. “With three times more seats, they also get three times more resources. That is not symbolic, they can use it to support the protest movement. ”

Because the protests are still coming back, almost everyone assumes that. If the political demands are not met, the protesters will be back on the street again and this time it will be even harder than before. Monday evening it was almost a confrontation again at the Polytechnic University, where after more than a week of police siege thirty young people are still detained.

“This is far from over,” says Chugani. “On the contrary, the demonstrators now feel encouraged. In a few weeks I see them coming back to the street and using violence. They have now received a mandate from voters to continue. “

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