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Hong Kong Protesters Get A Win, Setting Stage For Foggy China Relations

Anyone who thought the month’s long pro-democracy protests were going nowhere just has to read Monday’s headlines about Sunday’s District Council elections in Hong Kong. These are the small, local races that pro-Communist Party (CCP) leaders have taken hold of in recent years, only to be kicked out of office, one by one, in a record turnout yesterday. Pro-Beijing district councillors saw their control of Hong Kong’s 18 districts decline to one.

It wasn’t that young anti-CCP voters turned out in droves. The middle class turned out big as well, giving the protesters a huge win in their ongoing call for the right to vote for political leaders, rather than picking from a list handed to them by an establishment that’s building closer ties to Beijing.

This weekend’s election showed the bulk of Hong Kongers are in favor of the “universal suffrage” demand being made by the protesters. Universal suffrage is the right for adults to vote, regardless of socioeconomic status or political affiliation.

Hong Kong Protesters Get A Win, Setting Stage For Foggy China Relations

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu campaigns on a street during District Council Elections on November 24, 2019 in … [+] Hong Kong. He is a member of the pro-Beijing camp, but lost his seat on Sunday. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

The Hang Seng rose 1.5% on the news, with the Shanghai Composite also settling higher on the day, up 0.72%.

More than 2.7 million people cast their vote on Sunday, with turnout beating the previous record in the Legislative Council election of 2016. Voter turnout was 71% versus 47% in the last District Council election held in 2015.

The record turnout is a problem for Hong Kong executive Carrie Lam who is largely seen as having failed to control and contain the protesters. The pro-protester crowd just won a “mandate” on Sunday.

Hong Kong’s local elections rarely make headlines here at home. But this year was different. It set the those in favor of the protesters call for more democracy against those who are preparing to hand Hong Kong over to Beijing by 2047.

Yesterday’s drumming of status quo politicians puts Hong Kong at a crossroads.

The One Country, Two Systems policy treated Hong Kong differently than the mainland. But this policy ends within a generation – in 27 years’ time. Either Hong Kongers get voting out of their system and succumb to the mainland China way of governing, or China opens up and becomes more like Hong Kong. The other option is an extension of the current policy, put in place after the U.K. relinquished Hong Kong to the Chinese Communist Party in 1997.

Hong Kong Politics: A Short Term Gain

Hong Kong Protesters Get A Win, Setting Stage For Foggy China Relations

Hong Kongers have been resisting their government’s closer ties to Beijing, while costs of living … [+] rise and young people see a future rife with doubts over personal freedoms. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

AFP via Getty Images

Sunday’s win is a nice, short-term tailwind for Hong Kong.

Just how well did the anti-Beijing crowed perform? The District Councils have 452 seats representing the 18 districts of Hong Kong. They act similarly to the U.S. House of Representatives, though the comparison is not exact.

Of those seats, only 13% are now pro-establishment with 347 seats held by anti-CCP politicians.

The only council held by the pro-establishment camp was the 18-member Islands district, where eight seats were handed out automatically to pro-establishment rural chiefs, the very thing protesters have been highlighting all year.

Still, until Sunday, all of Hong Kong’s Districts were under pro-establishment control and have been at least since the 2015 elections, according to the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kongers want the choice to pick their own candidates. When they are given the choice, it is clear which political direction they prefer.

Assuming the One Country, Two Systems arrangement remains in effect as promised until 2047, the question for young college students – who may have voted for the first time on Sunday – is what will they do in their 40s when Hong Kong is just another Chinese province? Some people say they will move to Singapore, London, Vancouver, Toronto, or spread out in the U.S. This is clearly a generational struggle.

For Wall Street, it’s too far away to worry about.

Investors will see Sunday as a cooling-off period for protests; protests which, should they continue, put Hong Kong’s special trading status with the United States at risk. That risk subsided a little but this weekend.

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