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Hong Kong local election results: Remarkably unremarkable and counter-revolutionary to boot

By staff |
December 14, 2019
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Pro-Trump counter-revolutionary on the streets of Hong Kong.
Pro-Trump counter-revolutionary on the streets of Hong Kong.

On November 24, Hong Kong held local elections for all 18 district councils in the city, with 452 of the 479 council seats up for grabs. Amid the polarized political atmosphere created by the protests and riots that gripped the city this year, turnout was much higher than past local elections. In total, 2,931,745 people cast ballots for their local district councils; about 71% of the 4,132,977 registered voters.

The U.S. and its allies in the corporate news media were quick to trumpet the results as a smashing success for the pro-Western protest movement, which elected 388 candidates to district councils. In contrast, the patriotic forces - pejoratively called ‘pro-Beijing’ by the same Western press - elected just 62 candidates.

Indeed, these results did represent a massive reversal from the results of the 2015 local elections, in which the patriotic camp did far better. The pro-West protest forces went from holding 124 district council seats to the 388 in 2019. Patriotic forces, whose victory in 2015 gave them 331 seats, saw their numbers drop dramatically.

But focusing on the distribution of seats masks a much more complicated picture - one that no publication in the U.S. news media cared to cover. Looking at these numbers alone and in a vacuum, one might assume the pro-West opposition won 86% of the popular vote. That is not the case at all.

The popular vote total was far more evenly distributed. The pro-West protest camp still won more votes (1,674,083) than the patriotic forces (1,233,030), but it split 57-42%.*

Only four parties garnered more than 100,000 votes in the 2019 local elections.

The Hong Kong, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which leads the patriotic camp, won the most votes of any party in either camp (492,042). The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU), the city’s largest trade union and a cornerstone of the patriotic forces, earned the fourth-most votes of any party (128,796).

If the electorate was more evenly divided than the results suggest, why wasn’t this reflected in the distribution of district council seats? Hong Kong’s legislative elections operate on a system of proportional representation common to most parliaments, in which parties earn seats roughly proportional to their vote totals. They also have a substantial number of seats set aside for important social and constituency groups, like trade unions.

Local district council elections are another matter entirely, using a first-past-the-post system. In this system, candidates contest particular seats and the top vote-getter wins the seat, whether they win 99 to 1% or 51 to 49%. If Hong Kong’s legislative elections work along the lines of the British parliamentary system, district council elections work more like U.S. congressional elections, in which Republicans form a countrywide voting minority but can still win a majority of seats in Congress.

Most of the U.S. media coverage of these local elections loses or ignores their historical dimensions. The results reflect a massive shift from 2015, but more than just months-long protests and riots are at play. Most of the leading pro-West opposition forces boycotted the 2015 elections in a failed attempt to reignite the so-called ‘Umbrella Movement’, which featured large protests similar to the ones gripping Hong Kong today.

Their boycott was a huge flop, evidenced by the 47% voter turnout - the largest ever, at the time - and a sweeping victory for the patriotic parties. The opposition leaders - and their masters in Washington - summed their boycott up as the failure it was and took a different course in 2019.

But what’s most remarkable about the 2019 results is how unremarkable they are. Despite record-high voter turnout, many months of protests and an all-out Western propaganda blitz - both in the news media and online - the two sides in Hong Kong have basically the same amount of supporters as they have since 1997, when China regained control of the city from British colonizers.

It’s not hard to see why. Hong Kong’s organized working class has stood firmly against the protests from the beginning. Protesters’ calls for a general strike have continually flopped, and their failure to mobilize industrial action has led them increasingly towards more terroristic anti-people tactics.

As protests increasingly turned into riots and street violence, ordinary working people in Hong Kong bore the brunt. Many opposition leaders bemoan the lack of participation and support they receive in working-class neighborhoods, often retaliating against workers, their families and their trade unions - who they all label ‘pro-Beijing.’

The most disturbing incident came in the run-up to the local elections - a construction worker was burned alive by the same ‘pro-democracy’ protesters praised in Washington - and, shamefully, in some corners of the U.S. left.

The other aspect of the Hong Kong local election results glossed over - or praised - by the U.S. news media is the staggering amount of outside interference. The U.S. news media and state officials often charge Beijing with ‘outside interference,’ as if Hong Kong is not a part of China. Ironically these same voices, who peddle elaborate fantasies about Russian bots rigging the 2016 U.S. election for Trump, ignore the blatant outside intervention by their own government in China.

U.S. State Department officials have consistently met and coordinated with opposition leaders before and during this current wave of protests. Either through the National Endowment for Democracy or directly through the State Department, the United States funds and supplies countless Hong Kong opposition groups, including seemingly progressive fronts like the China Labour Bulletin.

In the context of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, war hawks in Washington have sought to use the unrest in Hong Kong as a cudgel against the People’s Republic. Congress passed the ‘Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act’ on November 28, just four days after this supposedly massive victory for the opposition. The act, which Trump quickly signed, aims to bolster the increasingly violent protests and threatens Beijing with more economic war measures, like revoking special trade rules for the city. Predictably, its passage threw trade talks with China into a tailspin, as the People’s Republic rightfully condemned this blatant imperial maneuvering.

Ultimately the Hong Kong local elections are far less consequential or telling than we’re told in the United States. These district councils hold very little power, which mostly resides in the Legislative Assembly. The high turnout shows a city sharply polarized and an increasingly chaotic protest movement dominated by right-wing ‘localist’ voices, even as they put on a liberal face for reporters.

The Hong Kong protests have failed to spread to the rest of people’s China. The nastiest, most racist and reactionary protest slogans don’t get translated by the glowing Western news media - which is content to cover the waving of American flags and the singing of the U.S. national anthem - but the people of China know the score.

This doesn’t make the protests in Hong Kong any less dangerous. The ruling class of the U.S. intends to use them to weaken the territorial integrity of China and attack the socialist system. But this isn’t ‘take two’ of the Tiananmen Square incident 30 years ago either, in which socialist countries across the hemisphere faced internal and external counterrevolution. Socialist China is standing strong.

*Independents unaligned with either of the two major blocs won 0.83% of the popular vote.

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up article to an earlier piece written for Fight Back! titled “Hong Kong protests are an attack on socialism.” That article goes into detail on the political and class nature of the Hong Kong protests, and whose interests they serve.

 

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