Hong Kong and the western world are celebrating as an historic election brought pro-democracy candidates into power in the semi-autonomous city. Over 71% of the electorate turned out to vote, yielding a complete reversal in the District Councils that amounts to a majority in all 18 Hong Kong districts.
Voters in Hong Kong took the polls in record numbers on Sunday, giving pro-democracy parties stunning gains as numerous high-profile pro-Beijing officials lost their seats.
“Almost three million voters sent the Carrie Lam administration an unmistakable message on Sunday, flooding to the ballot box in record numbers to vote against pro-establishment candidates and usher in what by all indications should be a staggering victory for the pro-democracy camp,” Public broadcaster RTHK reported. “While official results are yet to be announced, partial counts suggest that opposition candidates should win an overwhelming majority of the 452 District Council seats up for grabs, and may have a winning ratio of as high as nine-to-one.”
RTHK added, “Most analysts had expected the opposition to make significant gains with the government’s popularity ratings at an all-time low, but no one was predicting that the pro-democracy camp would win a majority of seats – much less almost all of them.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that pro-democracy candidates had won 395 of the 452 seats that were up for grabs and that pro-democracy parties were set to control all 18 district councils.
But District Councils in Hong Kong aren’t very powerful. They are localized advisory arms of the Hong Kong government, which in itself is an extension of Beijing. In other words, the District Councils have very little actual power outside of distribution of limited funds for a small scope of local projects.
This isn’t the pro-democracy victory many in the west are perceiving. It’s symbolic, and in that regard the message sent to Beijing was crystal clear. But will it bring real change? In and of itself, no. But combined with continued protests and a future upheaval of the pro-Beijing government, this could be the start of something much bigger. That is assuming Beijing doesn’t step in and interfere, which they most certainly will.
Here are the responsibilities and powers of Hong Kong’s District Councils:
The councils are mandated to advise the Government on the following:
- matters affecting the well-being of people in the District;
- the provision and use of public facilities and services within the District;
- the adequacy and priorities of Government programmes for the District;
- the use of public funds allocated to the District for local public works and community activities; and
District councils also undertake the following within the respective districts with its available funds allocated by the government:
- environmental improvements;
- the promotion of recreational and cultural activities; and
- community activities
While the powers of the District Councils may be limited, the symbolic victory could be enough to spark real changes made by the increasingly authoritarian government of Hong Kong. The question is whether Beijing will allow it.
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