HONG KONG - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government respects the results of Sunday's local district elections in which pro-democracy politicians romped to victory.
In the final tally, pro-democracy politicians won 385 of the 452 District Council seats in Sunday's district elections, compared with 59 for the pro-establishment camp. The remaining eight seats went to the independents. Democrats secured about 100 seats in the previous polls four years ago.
The resounding results were seen as a clear message of voters' unhappiness with the city’s authorities after nearly six months of anti-government protests.
In a statement on Monday (Nov 25), Mrs Lam said the government will listen to the views of the public with an open mind. She expressed hope that the calm seen in the lead-up to the elections can continue.
“There are many analyses and interpretations which say the results reflect the public’s dissatisfaction with the current state of things and the deep-seated problems in society,” she said, promising that the government will listen with an open mind and “seriously reflect”.
About 2.94 million voters went to the polls on Sunday, a record turnout and an increase from the 1.47 million who voted in the previous election.
Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Barnabas Fung confirmed close to midday that this has been the highest ever number of voters and voter turnout rates in district elections despite the count still being underway in the Lam Tin constituency.
“There are a number of questionable ballot papers still being dealt with. It’s not a lot,” he said.
Pictures posted online showed people celebrating outside polling stations, popping bottles of champagne.
Regina Ip, a member of the Hong Kong government’s leading advisory body and a former security chief, was loudly heckled on the streets of Central by lunchtime protesters.
Dominant pro-Beijing political party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong chairman Starry Lee said the party’s losses in the elections have been regrettable and offered to resign. This was rejected by the party’s leadership.
“We’ve not done well enough this time and don’t have the wider support of Hong Kongers. So give us some time, we’ll do better,” Ms Lee said, as she and party leaders bowed deeply at a press conference.
But for some voters, there is still little to celebrate despite the inroads made by pro-democracy politicians.
“The vote means little to me in the current rotten system and by voting, it means that we’ve submitted to it,” said events organiser Timothy Lau, 33.
“But step by step we need to show the government that we are fed up with all the pro-Beijing legislation. When everyone is questioning the system, changes can begin.”
In self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, the Presidential Office expressed "great admiration and support" for the election result.
"The election fully demonstrates Hong Kong people’s absolute will to pursue freedom and democracy," it said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday that Hong Kong is a part of China "no matter what happens" in the community-level elections.
"Any attempt to mess up Hong Kong, or even damage its prosperity and stability, will not succeed," Mr Wang told reporters after he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
China’s foreign ministry, asked about the election, said stopping violence and restoring order in Hong Kong was the paramount task.
“China’s central government resolutely supports chief executive Carrie Lam’s leadership of the Special Administrative Region government,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing.
District elections are usually a muted, hyperlocal affair - district councillors usually deal with community issues such as noise complaints, bus stop placements and estate beautification - but Sunday’s polls have been widely seen as a referendum on the government’s handling of the unrest.
Mass protests started out largely peaceful in June against a now withdrawn extradition Bill but escalated over accusations of police brutality and calls for greater democracy.
Tensions reached fever pitch two weekends ago when police laid siege to The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where student protesters had barricaded themselves in. The scuffles led to severe disruptions - roads were blocked, schools were ordered shut and companies let employees work from home.
But in the days leading up to the elections, the city returned to a state of relative calm as protesters urged one another online to remain calm after officials warned polls could be postponed or cancelled if widespread violence continued.
When the results began trickling in early on Monday morning, including upset wins for democrats against heavyweight pro-Beijing opponents, some voting centres erupted in loud cheers and chants of “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution Now” - a slogan used by many protesters on the streets over the past six months.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, a firebrand who became a divisive figure during the months of unrest, was the first prominent politician to lose his district council seat in Tuen Mun, close to the Chinese border.
In a Facebook post, Mr Ho called the incident “overwhelming”, using a Chinese idiom that also describes a major upset.
Councillor-elect Jimmy Sham, who is a prominent democracy figure, said the votes show that the people have spoken.
“This election is special because it is a formal confrontation between pro-establishment and pro-democracy parties after months of unrest caused by the misstep of government,” he said, standing on crutches weeks after he was beaten by men with hammers during a rally in October. “It is a victory for the people of Hong Kong.”
Other successful pro-democracy candidates included Mr Lester Shum, a former student leader of the umbrella movement in 2014, and Mr Kelvin Lam, who stood in after activist Joshua Wong was barred from running.
The state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Monday that the election “will hopefully have served as an opportunity to return the city to normal”.
“The relative tranquility the city enjoyed since several days before the election suggests all stakeholders regarded it as an opportunity to air their views.”