Mainland Chinese media downplayed its coverage after Hong Kong’s pro-establishment bloc was given a humiliating drubbing in Sunday’s district council election.
The nationalist tabloid Global Times stressed in an op-ed on Monday that the record-setting turnout – about 70%, or almost three million of the total seven million in Hong Kong – was not a gauge on the ideology of voters.
The paper also said it was not a sign that voters supported the ongoing anti-government protests, despite the fact that the majority of pro-establishment councilors in the 18 district councils were booted out.
The paper warned that the anti-government and anti-China firebrands, malcontents and radicals in the former British territory would be fooling themselves by thinking that the rout would give them stronger bargaining chips to force Beijing and the city’s government to capitulate to their demands, like genuine universal suffrage or self-determination. The high voter turnout did not matter, the paper said.
Of the total 452 seats up for grabs, the pro-establishment camp lost 241 seats, with a meager 58 remaining, while the opposition gained 263 to 388 seats. Hong Kong’s entire pro-establishment and pro-Beijing coalition has emerged from the vote in its worse shape since the city’s 1997 handover.
Other Chinese state media outlets were conspicuously reticent about the election results, with not a solitary word about the ignominious defeat mentioned by Xinhua and the People’s Daily on their websites or social media accounts.
Xinhua’s latest report about the polls was titled “district councilors should serve the grassroots, not politics,” and was posted at 9pm on Sunday evening when numerous polling stations were still chock a block with voters.
HK01 newspaper, owned by a local businessman with extensive connections on the mainland, cited a source as saying that even though senior cadres in Bejing had not been expecting parties loyal to them to entrench their dominance in district councils, they were still taken aback by the scale of the setback and jolted out of their complacency.
The broadsheet added that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam should perhaps reconsider her job security now that the only consensus among winning and defeated candidates across the political spectrum could be that “it was all Lam’s fault.”
Beijing and its subordinates in the city previously entertained the thought that the latest spate of disruptions and violence, in particular the occupation of and clashes on university campuses as well as the closure of major expressways and metro lines, could galvanize middle-of-the-road Hongkongers into picking pro-establishment candidates whose platforms always centered around stopping violence and bringing rioters to justice.
“They were shocked by the thumping rout and there will be a lot of soul-searching, and a likely outcome will be a shift in strategy, and even making a scapegoat, like asking Lam to go,” said the source.
Bill Wong, Mainland Liaison Officer of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area Economic and Trade Association, a semi-official think tank backed by Guangdong’s provincial government, told Asia Times that the results were a clear manifesto of the predominant ethos of the Hong Kong electorate – supporting or sympathizing with anti-government protesters – and there was no such thing as a “silent majority” opposing the demonstrations that the government and its allies previously talked about.
Wong feared that, going forward, the Hong Kong government could be on even more rugged ground when pressing ahead with its policies and initiatives. He also highlighted the need to examine all the policy blunders by the Chinese State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Beijing’s liaison office in the city, as well as other state agencies involved in policy-making relating to the territory.
Eric Lai, an academic from the Hong Kong Baptist University’s Government and International Studies Department, also told RTHK that most of the defeated candidates had supported the government’s now-pulled extradition bill or remained silent on allegations of widespread police brutality.
“It’s a clear message that those who do not stand with the people against the absence of accountability and the absence of self-discipline of the law enforcement agencies will pay a price in elections,” said Lai.
He said the protests would continue if the government did not give ground on the core demands from the people, including an independent probe of the policing of the protests, an amnesty for arrested protesters and genuine universal suffrage for Hong Kong.