Hong Kong Vote Leaves Beijing With No Good Options

The last thing Beijing expected in the November 24 elections for the 452 seats in Hong Kong’s 18 district councils was for its allies to be crushed. Now China’s leaders are stuck with no good options and no explanation for their 1.4 billion people about why that happened.

The Chinese Communist Party propaganda machine had urged what they believed to be Hong Kong’s “silent majority” to condemn the violence on the streets and disruptions to transportation. The “silent majority’s” silence baffled the comrades. The party put the public reticence down to fear of being attacked by protestors who have dominated the narrative in the city for the past five months.

The CCP hoped the “silent majority” would reject the growing protest mayhem through the ballot box. Instead, the party was shown the finger in an emphatic rout of their proxies.

Total rout

The pan-democrats and independents responded by winning 388 seats – 86 percent of the total – and now control 17 of the 18 councils. In 2015 they held none. It was a rout. Voter turnout was a record 71 percent compared to 47 percent in 2015. Many more registered voters made the effort to vote and send a clear message of rejection to Beijing.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment & Progress of Hong Kong, known universally as the DAB, the largest pro-Beijing party, fielded 181 candidates to win only 21. The other pro-Beijing party, The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) salvaged 4 seats from a 62-candidate list. By contrast the largest pro-democracy party fielded 99 candidates, winning 91.

The Democratic Party’s chairman Wu Chi-wai said “We do not accept Hong Kong becoming a police state and an authoritarian city.” That summed up what the real issues are for Hong Kong society. Hong Kong residents stoically endured the disruptions to their daily life for five months. They share the anger of the youth for the betrayal of the Basic Law promises of universal suffrage. There is no silent majority nodding for Beijing’s hand-picked Chief Executive Carrie Lam, pro-government candidates, or the Beijing puppet-masters.

None of the protesters’ demands are about housing or jobs. Their anger is beyond mechanical fixes to physical wellbeing. They will not surrender the freedoms they hold as core values. The majority reject Beijing’s meddling in Hong Kong before 2047. They know too well the consequences of acquiescence. Time is ticking, 22 years have been lost waiting on Beijing to fully implement the Basic Law promises on universal suffrage.

Clueless experts

The scale of the rout stunned the experts at the Liaison Office, Beijing’s unofficial envoy during British colonial rule, who have continued to claim knowledge of the “actual situation” in Hong Kong. They have consistently misled Beijing, getting it badly wrong on the 2003 Article 23 Bill on public security, which actually was designed to curtail civil liberties, along with the 2012 Patriotic Education controversy, the 2014 Occupy Central protest, which lasted for 79 days, amendments to the Extradition Bill, and the latest District Council elections.

Even Beijing must wonder how they can be so inept and clueless. The delusional Liaison Office commissars keep misreading Hong Kong. Trapped in the bubble of the Underground Front, they mistakenly project their paranoia onto the rest of Hong Kong society, like befuddled aliens who don’t belong. Coming from a one-party police state, they just don’t get it.

Astonished by the results, state media at first didn’t report the elections or the resounding rejection of the pro-Beijing candidates. They called instead for an end to street violence and the restoration of public order. Such a newsmedia stumble is caused by the need for approval by the CCP leadership, of the spin for unexpected failure. The framing of the party-line takes time. The spin needs to save face and deflect blame.

Whom to blame?

Soul-searching and introspection continue about what went wrong. The canards about foreign funding, attacks on pro-Beijing candidates and trashing of some offices are being spun to deflect the rout. A party that rules by terror on its own citizens cannot accept that they are truly unloved. The “stability and harmony” mantra the party spins to justify totalitarian control on the mainland finds no resonance in Hong Kong.

There will be finger-pointing within the pro-Beijing camp as each faction speeds away from the train wreck. The unforgiving top-down power structure of the CCP punishes failure. No comrade wants to be caught with his pants down. As an attempt at collective redemption, they may pull the lever on the hapless Carrie Lam as the simplest way to escape responsibility and survive.

Popular vote 60:40

The district council voting statistics give cause for reflection to both the pan-democrats and the pro-Beijing camp. After all, 40 percent of the popular vote went to DAB candidates. It was a 60:40 popularity result – not a total disaster for the DAB, which has grassroots support at the local level for its ability to resolve practical issues and help residents navigate complex government procedures.

The DAB is well-funded by the CCP and its hydra-headed United Front in the territory. It now faces a challenge to retain unseated councillors and staff, who will lose salaries and allowances. It needs to redouble its efforts over the next four years. The DAB will likely get all the funding it needs in the effort to re-take control.

What triggered protests?

After haughtily dismissing the public marches in July against the amended Extradition Bill, which would have allowed the extradition from Hong Kong to the mainland of those Beijing might wish to punish, Carrie Lam first withdrew it under the pressure of the protests, then killed it. The fallout from the bill was awkward for Chairman Xi Jinping’s then-upcoming G20 meetings in Osaka. The hourly global TV coverage shamed the Superpower. The CCP left Lam to twist in the wind.

Beijing thought that was the end of that folly. But then, a largely youth component continued street protests with planned aggression and violence against the riot police and other targets deemed enemies. They were half-a-decade older and savvier than the innocents of the Umbrella Revolution of 2014.

Peaceful, orderly students occupied Central for 79 days in 2014 to protest the National People’s Congress Standing Committee ruling denying direct election of the chief executive, promised under the Basic Law. They considered that bad faith and an unacceptable betrayal of trust. The students were ignored. The protest folded.

The youth defiance of July 2019 began with radicals surrounding the Legislative Council (LegCo) – the seat of law-making, and a powerful symbol to besiege. The riot police abruptly withdrew from defending it, to reappear on the inside, looking out, like heavily-kitted zoo chimps. Radicals rammed the glass doors, breaching them. The riot police vanished, abandoning LegCo to the astonished mob.

The stand-out graffiti on a LegCo pillar read “You taught us that peaceful protest is useless.”

The author is a Hong Kong businessman who asked that his name not be used out of concern for retribution