Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has said the government will “seriously reflect” after local elections saw massive gains by pro-democracy candidates.
According to local media, 17 of the 18 district councils are now controlled by pro-democracy councillors.
The election, the first since the wave of anti-Beijing protest began, saw an unprecedented turnout of more than 71%.
It’s being seen as a stinging rebuke of Ms Lam’s leadership and a show of support for the protest movement.
In a statement released online on Monday, Ms Lam said the government respected the results.
She said many felt that the results “reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society”.
The government would “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect”, she said.
The district councillors have little political power and mainly deal with local issues such as bus routes and rubbish collection, so the district elections don’t normally generate such interest.
But the councillors also get to choose 117 of their number to sit on the 1,200-member committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive.
The landslide results mean all of those 117 seats are now likely to go to pro-democracy candidates, so they will have a greater influence over that decision.
But the result is also highly symbolic, as it was the first opportunity for people to express at the ballot box their view of Ms Lam’s handling of the crisis.
The government, and China’s leaders in Beijing, had been hoping the election would bring a show of support from the so-called “silent majority” which they say disapproves of the protests.
But that did not materialise – instead some high-profile pro-Beijing candidates lost their seats as voters overwhelmingly backed pro-democracy candidates.
The hope from activists is that the overwhelming victory of anti-establishment parties will force the government to their demands more seriously.
There has been no official comment from Beijing. But Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking in Japan, reiterated that “no matter what happens, Hong Kong is a part of China”.
“Any attempt to mess up Hong Kong, or even damage its prosperity and stability, will not succeed,” he said.
State media outlets have been cautious in reporting the results.
State news agency Xinhua has yet to report the results. Meanwhile, the English edition of state-backed tabloid Global Times attributed the result to the “abnormal” circumstances which made it easier for the pro-democracy camp to mobilise their voters.
It also alleged that “western forces” have been supporting the opposition.
Ahead of the vote, state media had been urging people to vote for stability and against the unrest.
Hong Kong, once a British colony, is part of China but it has some autonomy and people have more rights than on the mainland
That special status is set to expire in 2047, and many in Hong Kong don’t want to become “another Chinese city”.
The current protests started in June against a planned law which would have cleared the way for criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. Many feared this would undermine the city’s freedoms or be used to silence anti-Beijing voices.
The bill was withdrawn in September but demonstrations continued .
Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent, with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers with bows and arrows or throwing petrol bombs.
The demands of the protesters, mostly young people, have expanded to include genuine universal suffrage and an inquiry into allegations of police brutality.