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Hong Kong’s local polls test support for ongoing protests

Hong Kong saw a high voter turnout in the local district council polls on Sunday in which 452 seats were at stake. The election, which was peaceful, is being seen as a referendum on the conflict between the city’s administration and the ongoing pro-democracy movement that has gripped Hong Kong for over six months. New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Pro-democracy support in Hong Kong was tested at the polls today as residents voted in local district council elections. Turnout was high and the vote was peaceful, in contrast to the violent anti-government demonstrations that have pitted Hong Kong's government against pro-democracy demonstrators over the past six months. 452 seats were at stake in Hong Kong's 18 district councils. And the results are expected to be a referendum on the conflict. Joining us now via Skype from Hong Kong is New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy. Austin, we saw the pictures of people lined up. How significant was this turnout?

  • Austin Ramzy:

    Turnout was was huge. 71 percent of eligible voters, almost three million people. Long lines at lots of polling stations around the city. Huge, huge interest in this election.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So it comes down to the pro-Beijing party and the pro-democracy party. Are those the two kind of biggest ones that are fighting for all of these smaller seats?

  • Austin Ramzy:

    Yes. I mean, it's divided among several parties and several unaffiliated candidates. But those are the two largest camps, the sort of establishment pro-Beijing camp, and the pro-democracy camp.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what's the ripple effect of this election? Is this what decides the legislative council that makes the rules or how does, I mean, this is… Otherwise, we would not be talking about a relatively small city council election!

  • Austin Ramzy:

    That's right. It's surprising that there's been so much interest and focus on this election. The district council deals with very local issues. As I saw the candidates campaigning in my neighborhood, they had signs about, you know, trash clean up and bus stop placement and taking care of leaky air conditioners or dirty front buildings — very, very local things like that. But they do have a role in selecting the chief executive… Hong Kong has a sort of a convoluted, sort of semi-democratic system, the chief executive is chosen by a panel of about 1,200 people and be the district councils choose about a 120 of those are about 10 percent of those. So it does have a role in choosing the top office. But the other reason this vote is so important is that it has been a referendum on the protests.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    While you and I are talking, they are still counting the votes. And it's kind of too early to say exactly how this election is breaking at the moment. But let's say, for example, lets kind of go through both scenarios. If the pro-Beijing party has a, whatever, a decisive win, and they are the ones who will be electing the kind of the chief executive of Hong Kong, what does that say to the demonstrators? They're going to say, OK, well, we lost this round that said no more protests?

  • Austin Ramzy:

    Yes. If that scenario were to happen, and it seems like the less likely of the scenarios is it would sort of say that people have had enough, people or are tired of the disruption related to the protest and are moving towards the establishment. The pro-Beijing camp has traditionally won this election because it has more money and it is better organized at the very grassroots level. So they've won this this election ever since Hong Kong became part of China.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So now, let's try the inverse. If the pro-democracy groups win this election, what does that signal to China?

  • Austin Ramzy:

    That would be quite a big shock. As I said, you know, this is an election that is sort of being controlled by the pro-establishment camp. And as returns are coming in, we've already seen some very prominent names from the establishment camp lost. The pro-Democrats have picked up a lot of seats, although we don't know if it'll be enough seats to control all of the district councils. But a significant number of seats, and we'll sort of, this is the first time where those numbers of people that have been on the street have actually been able to cast a vote. And it will really put those those numbers, will actually have some meaning.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Austin Ramzy of The New York Times joining us via Skype from Hong Kong tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Austin Ramzy:

    My pleasure.

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