Hong Kong Elections: New Parties Pick Up Seats — More Pro-Democracy, More Anti-China

Results followed record turnout of 58% of registered voters

Officials emptied a ballot box following Hong Kong Legislative Council elections at a central counting station on Monday morning. Voters turned out in record numbers Sunday.
Officials emptied a ballot box following Hong Kong Legislative Council elections at a central counting station on Monday morning. Voters turned out in record numbers Sunday. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

Updated Sept. 5, 2016 3:24 a.m. ET

HONG KONG—A bevy of candidates from new parties calling for more self-determination for this former British colony won seats in the first major elections since massive street protests two years ago—a result that underscores deepening political divisions here.

Results from a Sunday poll to elect a fresh slate of lawmakers for Hong Kong’s 70-member Legislative Council showed wins by a student leader from the 2014 Occupy protests—where thousands of citizens seeking greater autonomy blocked streets for 79 days—as well as other advocates of a more independently governed Hong Kong. The results followed record turnout—58% of registered voters—as long lines of residents jammed the polls, some waiting until 2 a.m. to cast their ballots.

The wins by these parties show their ideas have gained traction in the territory, as well as heightened tensions with the mainland, which has labeled such groups—particularly those advocating independence from China—dangerous secessionists. The government barred several candidates calling for Hong Kong’s complete independence from China from running in the election.

One of the new parties, Demosisto, is pushing for political autonomy from mainland China. The party’s chairman, Nathan Law, a 23-year-old college student who was a main leader of the Occupy protests, captured a seat with more than 50,000 votes. He will become the youngest lawmaker in history to serve in the Legislative Council.

Another victor from the new breed of candidates is 40-year-old Lau Siu-Lai, who became known for holding “classes” on democracy during the Occupy protests. According to results, she received more than 38,000 votes. And Eddie Chu, a 38-year-old social activist, claimed victory with 84,000 votes.

Monday’s results also showed that the pro-democracy camp retained its veto power to block pending bills, which requires control of a third of the chamber’s 70 seats. It also kept a simple majority among the 35 geographically based seats, which are directly elected.

“I think the central message is very clear,” said Dixon Sing, a political analyst at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “A lot of Hong Kong people want to have a political change in tactics from the more mild confrontational one adopted by the pan-democrats to more confrontational one adopted by these new [groups].”

Sunday’s election was the first Legislative Council poll since the Occupy protests, which were sparked by anger at the unwillingness of Beijing and the Hong Kong government to let the territory’s citizens nominate their own candidates for chief executive in 2017. Hong Kong has partial autonomy from the Communist Party-ruled mainland under a “one country, two systems” policy.

Those protests ended without the government budging from its stance. Instead, the demonstrations left widening divisions between those in Hong Kong who want to work with Chinese leaders to make the city’s government more democratic and groups espousing everything from greater autonomy to independence from the mainland.

Student leader Nathan Law celebrated after winning his election for Legislative Council on Monday in Hong Kong.
Student leader Nathan Law celebrated after winning his election for Legislative Council on Monday in Hong Kong. PHOTO: REUTERS

“My family doesn’t agree with my political preference and tells me politics is none of my business,” said Wai-Ying Wong, a 21-year-old university student and supporter of the Occupy protests who was voting for the first time Sunday in western Hong Kong island. “There is nothing wrong with being pro-democracy, and I want to voice my opinion.”

Just more than half of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is selected by popular vote, while the rest is chosen by constituencies that represent largely pro-Beijing and business interests. That has meant comfortable majorities for mainland-friendly politicians and policies. During the last election four years ago, pro-democracy candidates won 27 seats—not enough to sway legislation but just over the one-third number needed to veto bills.

Recently, a ballooning gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong, combined with signs that the mainland is trying to tighten its grip over the territory, has prompted dissatisfaction with the government and the political system.

A proposal to let Hong Kong citizens vote for the territory’s chief executive but limit candidates to a list vetted by a pro-China committee sparked the Occupy protests. Pro-democracy lawmakers blocked that change last year, leaving in place a system where a pro-Beijing committee selects the city’s leader.

Pro-establishment parties also faced an uphill climb in Sunday’s election because of the unpopularity of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his administration. Mr. Leung was selected in March 2012 for a five-year term by a largely pro-Beijing committee of business and political elites. It is unclear if he will run for re-election next year.

Write to Chester Yung at chester.yung@wsj.com



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