Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp swept district council elections in a landslide victory on Monday in what is widely seen as a referendum on months of anti-government protest.
Pro-democracy parties are set to control 388 of 452 available seats and 17 out of 18 district councils, in some cases unseating all pro-establishment candidates.
While the district councils are mostly concerned with community affairs, they are represented in the group of 1,200 electors who will select the next chief executive in 2022.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in a statement that the vote appeared to “reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society.”
Pro-democracy candidates did particularly well in some of the areas hit hardest by anti-government protests over the past five months even as the city has been pushed into a recession amidst dwindling tourist figures.
Wong Tai Sin district, whose residents were famously tear-gassed for heckling riot police, is now completely controlled by the pro-democracy camp.
Democrats also did well in Yuen Long, Tai Po, and Sha Tin districts, the sites of some of the most intense and violent confrontations between protesters and police.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Tokyo that “any attempts to undermine the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong will end in failure” after a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to Kyodo News.
During the meeting, Abe emphasized the “importance of a free and open Hong Kong prospering under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” according to Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.
High-profile activist Joshua Wong, who was barred from running in the elections, called the results “historic” on Twitter.
“Every way you look at it, this is historic. As our city plummets from being semi-autonomous to semi-authoritarian, we react by showing what’s DEMOCRACY IN ACTION,” he wrote.
Prominent Democratic and Republican U.S. politicians, including senators Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren, also hailed the results.
Much of the pro-democracy camp’s success is partly due to a successful voter drive conducted during protests that saw more than 1 million people added to the voter list.
Election officials said that more than 2.9 million of 4.1 million eligible voters cast a ballot in the elections in a 71 per cent voter turnout, a record for the district council elections.
The former British colony has been hit by weekly protests since early June when the government attempted to amend its extradition laws concerning mainland China.
The proposed law instead prompted hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets for the past five months as the government failed to defuse tensions.
Earlier this month, universities across Hong Kong were forced to cancel the end of their semester after thousands of students and protesters occupied campuses.
Protests began in Hong Kong over legislation that would have allowed residents to be extradited to mainland China, but they have since come to represent a mass movement against the local and Beijing governments and police violence.
Many protesters expressed concern that the draft extradition bill was a sign that Hong Kong was losing to China the autonomy which the former British colony was promised for 50 years when it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China under the “one country, two systems” arrangement until 2047.