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Hong Kong: What's the significance of the local election results?

Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong scored a stunning victory in the district council elections held this weekend. Despite the outcome, Beijing won't give in to protesters' demands, says political analyst Joseph Cheng.

DW: The pro-democracy candidates scored a remarkable victory in the local district council elections this weekend. What's the significance of these results?  

Joseph Cheng: The election was important because all Hong Kong residents of voting age had the right to cast their ballots, with which they could articulate their demands.

The election results are a clear message to the world and to the leadership in Beijing that we remain steadfast on our demands and are waiting for an appropriate response from the political leadership. We won't accept a harsh crackdown and oppression.

Early on Sunday morning, Hong Kongers lined up in front of the polling stations to exercise their right to vote. I had to wait in the queue for a long time before my turn came up. That was very emotional for me. 

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The district councils, however, have no real influence on how Hong Kong is governed. What's your take on this?

It is true that district councils are co-determination bodies at the grassroots level, with little power and a low budget. Nevertheless, voters were able to express their opinions on Sunday. People in Hong Kong are very disappointed by the government headed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and also by the Chinese central government in Beijing. So they are using every opportunity to express their frustration. 

After the announcement of the results, Carrie Lam said she would "listen humbly" to voters. How do you view this statement?

I don't believe it. Carrie Lam isn't being honest. She could simply show her good will by agreeing to set up an independent committee of inquiry to look into accusations of police brutality against protesters. Eighty percent of Hong Kongers want such a committee, but Lam has been blocking it.

Chinese political analyst Joseph Yu-shek Cheng

'There can be no question of a return to normality in Hong Kong as long as political demands are being ignored by the leadership,' says Joseph Cheng

There can be no question of a return to normality in Hong Kong as long as political demands are being ignored by the leadership.

What impact do you think will these results have on the ongoing anti-government protests?

The voters have already made it clear that they want to elect the chief executive by direct and universal suffrage. Only a head of government who has been directly elected can properly listen to the people's concerns and protect their interests. The current leader, however, is loyal to Beijing. We call for reforms to this arrangement. If those in power continue to ignore our demands, Hong Kongers will continue to demonstrate peacefully for their fulfillment.

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Will the Chinese central government in Beijing be impressed by the results?

That is unlikely. The central government in Beijing knows our demands, but is not prepared to compromise. It wants to teach the demonstrators in Hong Kong a lesson. Despite the mass movement, it does not want to give in, to avoid stoking similar protests in mainland China.

The district councils also appoint a certain number of representatives to the 1,200-member Election Committee, which is in charge of selecting the city's chief executive. Do the local election results affect the future work of the committee?

No, they will hardly have an impact. The Beijing-friendly faction will continue to hold the majority in the Election Committee. With its victory in the district elections, the pro-democracy camp will be able to secure 117 seats in the 1200-member committee.

But the chief executive candidates will continue to be nominated by Beijing, accompanied by a massive political advertising campaign. The current electoral system, whose purpose is to allow Beijing to appoint its confidant to the top post in Hong Kong, will not be changed by the election victory of the democratic forces.

Joseph Yu-shek Cheng is chair professor of political science and coordinator of the Contemporary China Research Project, City University of Hong Kong.

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