Hong Kong voters came out in force during yesterday’s district council elections, resulting in the biggest turnout in its history. The official count resulted in a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates, a win for those who have been protesting over the last six months.
Taking place every four years, these elections allow voters to choose representatives for Hong Kong’s 18 district councils. Those elected are only responsible for community-level affairs like transport and public facilities, but the response yesterday is an indication of people’s frustrations with the government and their call for democracy.
Around 2.9 million people showed up to cast their vote yesterday.
Enoch, a 34-year-old designer, voted in the Sui Wo district in Sha Tin and said that many people turned up to vote but remained calm.
“I went very early in the morning, around 7:45 a.m., and there was already a fair amount of people in line. The atmosphere was mostly calm where I was at; people just stood in line and waited their turn. By the time I was done, the line had doubled, but it was orderly,” he told VICE.
“There’s more noise/enthusiasm when passing by candidate volunteer booths along the way, but most people appeared to want to keep to themselves and not show their affiliation much.”
Yesterday, voters formed large queues that snaked around the block of voting stations. The overwhelming 71 percent turnout dwarfed 2015’s 47 percent. Reports attributed this to Hong Kong’s young first-time voters who have expressed their opinions over increasing violence in the protests. These have resulted in the deaths of two people and many more injured. A woman, who became a symbol of the indiscriminate violence used by the police, was blinded in one eye by an alleged police projectile.
This all started as a fight against a now-cancelled extradition bill that would have allowed suspected Hong Kong criminals to be tried in mainland China. The movement has since expanded to a larger call for democracy.
Many, like Enoch, voted to make their voices heard.
“There had been so many injustices over the past months, and instead of acting fairly against those injustices, our government, instead suppressed the people’s voices, restricting peaceful ways of protesting such injustices, and further oppressed those who tried to raise a voice. They forced the people to either stay silent in the face of injustice, or become more violently vocal, and then condemned the violence,” he said.
“The election was our only avenue to demonstrate peacefully, on a large scale, how unhappy we are, how fed up we are with the status quo, and how we won’t remain silent.
“It was important because it proved to everyone that after months of chaos, and a lot of rights and wrongs from both sides, that the majority of the people still stood with the protest movement, and displayed our will for democracy. I think many wanted to express their anger towards our government and the pro-establishment camp in a peaceful manner, and this was our chance.”
According to The South China Morning Post, 347 of the 452 seats will be held by pro-democracy candidates. Independents (many also support the pro-democracy movement) won 45, while the pro-establishment camp only got 60.
“It felt like a very small form of justice for all that's happened, and showed the world how our government and the pro-establishment camp do not represent the will of the people, far from it,” Enoch said.
However, what the results mean for protesters’ five demands — which includes investigating police brutality and universal suffrage for Legislative Council and Chief Executive elections — still remains unknown.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has denounced these requests and recently called the demands a pipe dream.
"If there is any wishful thinking that by escalating violence the (Hong Kong) government will yield to pressure to satisfy protesters' so-called demands, I'm making this clear that will not happen," she said, earlier this month.
Enoch is trying to stay hopeful.
“I always hope for those in power to come to their senses and actually listen to what the people want, which for me, and perhaps many others, is simply fairness and accountability. But at this point, something so basic seems like the most impossible ask,” he said.