Hong Kong’s September 4 Legislative Council election was an unexpected triumph for the new cutting edge of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. The questions on all minds now are whether the message registered in Beijing and if so, what might be the response from so hardline an administration as that currently led by President Xi Jinping. Unreformed loyalists say he cannot be seen to waver… it’s a matter of Chinese sovereignty. Others say if something doesn’t change, Hong Kong will become impossible to govern.

Vote count recap

Calculations vary, depending on political definitions, as to who won and by how much. If all democrats of every persuasion are lumped together according to the old way of reckoning, they won 59.7% of the individual votes cast for the Geographic Constituencies. Pro-Beijing loyalist and pro-establishment conservatives won 40.3%.

Starry Lee election results superseat
Starry Lee. Photo: Starry Lee via Facebook.

According to South China Morning Post calculations: pro-establishment candidates won 40.25% of the vote; traditional pan-democrats 27%; localist and radical democrats (presumably including both new localists and old radicals) won 27.6%; breakaway (from the Democratic Party and Civic Party) moderates won 5%.

The message

Amid all the political divisions, the most basic result was the message sent by the sum total of candidates and voters. The political direction was clear enough. Pro-establishment loyalist forces failed to secure Beijing’s hoped-for two-thirds veto-proof majority in the Legislative Council. This they needed not just to revive Beijing’s 2014 political reform directive, but also to put an end to filibustering.

Democrats have hit upon this tactic as their only defence against the pro-establishment majority, although most recently a pro-establishment medical representative used the tactic to similar effect. A two-thirds majority vote is needed to change Legislative Council rules that allow filibustering.

nathan law
Nathan Law after winning in the election. Photo: Facebook/Nathan Law.

More striking were the unexpected victories of young candidates from the 2014 Occupy protest movement. Nor were these post-Occupy candidates all young or even all post-Occupy newcomers.   But their message grew out of that movement, coalesced during the 79 days they were camped out on the streets debating democracy, and has been strengthening during the two years since.

Six of the democratic camp’s new class of 19 directly-elected legislators identify themselves as localists: intent on emphasizing first and foremost Hong Kong’s own political, social, and economic interests. Their new rallying cry is Hong Kong self-determination and the six are augmented by two new Functional Constituency legislators of similar persuasion.

Yau Wai-ching
Yau Wai-ching. Photo: Youngspiration.

These eight councilors represent the acceptable (in official eyes) face of Hong Kong’s new post-Occupy political mood. Another five were deemed unacceptable and banned from the election contest for advocating outright Hong Kong independence (Aug. 3 post).

Further strengthening this new wave are what’s now being called the “traditional” democrats. All the main pre-existing parties have also adopted “self-determination” as their political aim … although they have yet to explain exactly what they mean by the term.

But the concept among members of the new post-Occupy generation is being used to distinguish themselves from the pre-Occupy generation’s acceptance of the official “one-country, two-systems” formula designed by Beijing to govern Hong Kong’s post-colonial life under Chinese rule.

Whatever that formula was originally intended to mean, it is now being used by Beijing and its Hong Kong allies in what looks and feels like evolution toward one-country, one-system.

The new wave of Hong Kong’s democracy movement uniformly defines itself as intent on holding the line against evolution toward one system or what everyone now refers to as mainland-ization 【內地化】.

Political Parties, traditional (and number of legislators just elected):

  • Democratic Party, 民主黨 (7)
  • Civic Party, 公民黨 (6)
  • Professional Commons, 公共專業聯盟 (2)
  • Labour Party, 工黨 (1)
  • People Power, 人民力量 (1)
  • League of Social Democrats, 社會民主連線, (1)
  • Neighbourhood Workers Service, 街工 (1)
  • Civic Passion, 熱血公民 (1)
LegCo come backs

New Post-Occupy Parties:

  • Younspiration alliance (AllinHK), 青年新政 (2)
  • Demosisto, 香港眾志 (1)

Civic Passion is the most radical of the pre-Occupy parties and its one legislator is counted together with the post-Occupy localists. Two other new localists are non-party independents.

The total calculation of 30 democrats in the new 2016 Legislative Council was made with the addition of a Functional Constituency independent, Pierre Chan, representing medical doctors (Sept. 8 post).  Despite the pro-democracy signals he sent out while campaigning, Apple Daily (Sept. 6) counts him separately … to give democrats a total of 29 legislators in the 70-seat council.


In Beijing, the powers that be will no doubt take some time to absorb the election’s impact and decide on a response. But here in Hong Kong, while we wait, a few opinion-leader loyalists have had some unexpectedly accommodating things to say.

These Hong Kong loyalist voices can usually be relied upon to reflect Beijing views on local democratic defiance in whatever form it takes on any given day. But for now, at least, they seem to accept that the defiance they usually deplore has been transformed into something legitimate by its passage through the ballot box.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has risen from the depths of defeat after her abortive campaign to promote Article 23 national political security legislation in 2003. She was then a civil servant and Secretary for Security. Now a successful pro-establishment legislator representing Hong Kong Island, she was just reelected with the highest number of votes in the constituency.

Regina Ip Eunice Yung
Regina Ip (left) and Eunice Yung (right) campaigning together during the election. Photo: Facebook.

In her regular South China Morning Post Sunday column, Regina Ip wrote that the success of separatist candidates with their demands for democratic self-determination poses a real challenge for those deciding how best to deal with them, that is, whether to go softly or adopt a “tough, intimidating, legalistic approach.”

She understands the consequences. After her tough, intimidating, legalistic 2003 approach, half-a-million people hit the streets in protest and she beat a hasty retreat to California where she spent three years studying government and politics.

Of rural reform advocate Eddie Chu’s unexpected success in the New Territories, she wrote that his victory “represents widespread public sympathy and support for the underdog. The government would be well-advised to heed the warnings before there are further outbreaks of anger on the street.”

Eddie Chu. File Photo: HKFP/Stanley Leung.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a denier of Hong Kong pro-democracy activism dating back to its origins in the 1980s, said during a radio interview that the September 4 election should allow mainland authorities to better understand Hong Kong sentiments and dissatisfaction with the government.

Now speaking from the vantage point of a mainland-sponsored think tank, Lau noted that the central government had shown itself to be more actively concerned with protecting its own core values and sovereignty than catering to Hong Kong interests.

Still, from Beijing’s perspective, there might be a silver lining. During the same radio interview, Lau noted that the newly popular advocates of localism were at least not calling for an end to “one-party dictatorship” like the old pan-democrats with their memories rooted in the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Lau said this new localist orientation might just help to realize the original “one-country, two-systems” ideal. It had been promoted by mainland officials who liked to quote the old saying about river water not mixing with well water 【河水不犯井水】. This was used by Chinese officials to mean that Beijing would not meddle in Hong Kong but Hong Kong also should not try to bridge the 1997 divide with any notions about democratizing China… which is, of course, just what “end one-party dictatorship” aspires to do.

Jasper Tsang One Country Two Systems
Jasper Tsang,

Another post-election commentator was Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, long-time loyalist leader, founder of the main pro-Beijing political party, and often mentioned as a possible successor to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. During a post-election TVB interview, Tsang said that if Leung is allowed to serve a second term, which will begin next year, and if he doesn’t change his (tone deaf) way of dealing with Hong Kong’s radical protest movement, his second term would be a bad thing for Hong Kong.

Finally, James Tien Pei-chun made the startling statement that the credibility of Hong Kong elections is at stake. Tien is a founder of the pro-business Liberal Party and a long-time (just retired) pro-establishment legislator, albeit one with an undisciplined political streak.

He played a major role in Regina Ip’s 2003 debacle when he made the decision to withdraw Liberal Party legislators’ support for the Article 23 national security bill, thereby depriving it of the votes needed for passage.

James Tien
James Tien. Photo: Facebook.

During a post-election radio interview last week, Tien questioned whether Beijing’s Liaison Office here was exceeding its purported liaison mandate since it had been so openly meddling in Hong Kong’s election. He said Beijing needs to determine whether mainland personnel have gone beyond their prescribed role to make the Liaison Office an “executive department in Hong Kong” (SCMP, online, Sept. 14).

Tien was discussing the case of Liberal Party member Ken Chow Wing-kan who had been a candidate in the New Territories West constituency. Chow withdrew from the race a few days before the election claiming pressure to do so from people in high places (Aug. 29 post)

Chow then dramatically flew to England to avoid being here during the election and returned afterword to tell the fuller story at a press conference on September 7. He said that mainlanders in Shenzhen and liaison office personnel here had been instrumental in pressuring him, with some added suggestions from local enforcers, to withdraw from the race.

Their motive was to promote the chances of pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho Kwan-yu who was competing for the same pool of conservative New Territories voters.

Junius Ho.
Junius Ho. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

James Tien gave credibility to Chow’s story … that loyalists including both Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Jasper Tsang Yok-sing have done their best to debunk … by recalling that he, too, had been lobbied by liaison office personnel. They wanted Tien to convince Chow to withdraw from the race because he could not win but could take votes from their man Junius Ho.

Ho was the weakest of the winning candidates in New Territories West. Chow, whose name was still on the ballot, received 1,500 votes despite his high-profile withdrawal. Junius Ho took the last of the nine seats in NTW with a margin of only 6,000 votes.

Liaison Office calculations were correct. A few thousand votes less, which Chow might well have absorbed from their common voter base, could have deprived Junius Ho of victory.

These four individuals … Regina Ip, Lau Siu-kai, Jasper Tsang, and James Tien… have good to excellent Beijing connections. In different ways they have all expressed themselves on aspects of Hong Kong’s September 4 election that the pro-Beijing media has been careful to avoid repeating. Editors are no doubt waiting for Beijing’s response … looking for signals to suggest that Beijing might be thinking about modifying its head-in-the-sand approach to the challenges it now faces here.

Suzanne Pepper headshot

Suzanne Pepper

Suzanne Pepper is a Hong Kong-based American writer and Hong Kong resident with a long-standing interest in Chinese politics. In her book, 'Keeping Democracy at Bay: Hong Kong and the Challenge of Chinese Political Reform', Pepper addresses debates surrounding democracy and dictatorship. Her blog following Hong Kong's integration within the Chinese political system dates back to 2009.