Tsunami awash with challenges

Editorial | Mary Ma 26 Nov 2019

Sunday's election results were a massive blow for the administration and its political allies, delivering in an unambiguous way a verdict on the government crackdown on the anti-government protests that have torn Hong Kong apart for the past five months.

As the vote was underway, opposition candidates were already tipped to be winning - but none predicted their victory would turn into such a massive political tsunami.

The two largest pro-establishment parties - the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions - were decimated, while former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's New People's Party was totally wiped out.

All in all, the opposition camp won control of all but one of the 18 district councils, grabbing 388 of the 452 seats contested. The Democratic Party won the most with 91.

The outcome will greatly augment the opposition's presence in the Election Committee that will select the chief executive in 2022, while also moderately increasing its number of seats in the Legislative Council after the 2020 legislature election.

It marks a tremendous turnaround for the pan-democratic opposition. In the 2015 district council elections, the pro-Beijing camp was so overwhelming that its members controlled all the district councils.

Sunday's reversal had everything to do with Beijing and the SAR administration's hardline policy on the anti-government protests.

Lately, the public were upset with the social unrest that ground normal life to a halt. But they were more angry with how the police handled protesters and the fact that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been unable to end the crisis.

Without doubt, slogans containing the words "democracy" and "freedom" carried a powerful message for the electorate, but the question must be asked: what now for security and safety?

In politics, it is always easier to play the opposition but Sunday's huge victory could turn out to be a challenge for the pan-democrats and their peers.

Now that they have formed the ruling regime at the district level, will they be able to perform a new role so distinct from that of the past? It also remains to be seen if the Lam administration will work with them on local matters and continue to give the district councils hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on local issues each year as this would nurture the opposition.

The transformation from being a purely opposition force into a ruling member - albeit on a local level - is a demanding process.

Can the pan-democratic opposition survive the process? If they cannot, what they will be facing four years from now a similar tsunami that has ousted the DAB, FTU, NPP and others of the pro-establishment camp this time around.

Apparently, the results have caught Beijing totally off-guard, but it would be unrealistic to expect it to soften its hardline policy towards Hong Kong as a result of the vote.

More likely than not, as it reviews its policy, it will seek an even tighter grip on the city where its people - in Beijing's view - are trying desperately to run away from it.

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