HONG KONG (AP) — A new wave of young Hong Kong activists seeking to change the way the southern Chinese city is governed by Beijing emerged Monday as the big winners of legislative elections.
Record turnout in Sunday’s vote helped sweep the newcomers into office, most notably Nathan Law, a 23-year-old former student leader of massive pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2014. He garnered the second-highest number of votes in his six-seat Hong Kong Island constituency.
Law’s party, Demosisto , founded earlier this year with teen protest leader Joshua Wong, advocates a referendum on “self-determination” on the future status of Hong Kong, which is in the middle of a 50-year transition period to Chinese rule.
“It shows how Hong Kong people want to change,” Law told reporters when asked about his victory. “People are voting for a new way and new future of our democratic movement.”
In another surprising result, official results showed that Yau Wai-Ching, 25, of Youngspiration , which was formed during the 2014 protests and proposes a similar plan as Demosisto, secured a seat in the Legislative Council. The group’s other candidate, 30-year-old Sixtus Leung, also appeared headed for a win, according to incomplete results for his constituency.
The newcomers pulled off their startling victories by riding a rising tide of anti-China sentiment as they challenged formidably resourced pro-Beijing rivals.
They were part of a broader wave of radical activists who campaigned for Hong Kong’s complete autonomy or even independence from China, highlighting fears that Beijing is eroding the city’s high autonomy, as well as frustration over the failure of the 2014 protests to win genuine elections for Hong Kong’s top leader.
That represents a break with the established mainstream “pan-democrat” parties, who have demanded voters be able to elect more lawmakers as well as the city’s top leader, or chief executive — currently chosen by a panel of pro-Beijing elites — but never challenged the idea that Hong Kong is part of China.
About 2.2 million people, or 58 percent of registered voters, cast ballots for lawmakers in the Legislative Council, the highest turnout since the city’s 1997 handover from Britain.
Another rookie, 38-year-old land reform campaigner Eddie Chu, won 84,121 votes, the highest number of votes garnered by any of the more than 200 candidates competing for 35 seats in geographic constituencies. Five more “super seats” are chosen by voters citywide.
Another 30 seats are taken by members representing business and trade groups such as accounting, finance, medicine and fisheries, most of which support Beijing because their members have close ties to China’s communist elite on the mainland.
At stake is the power to keep Hong Kong’s widely unpopular Beijing-backed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and his government in check. Pro-democracy lawmakers need to win at least 24 of 70 seats to retain the power to veto unpopular proposed government legislation, including Beijing’s controversial election revamp that triggered the 2014 street protests.
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