What does Hong Kong's election result mean for its future?

Amid fears of Chinese intervention in Hong Kong politics, several young pro-democracy leaders including 23-year old Demosisto party leader Nathan Law have been elected to the 70-seat Hong Kong Legislative Council.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Nathan Law speaks at a rally with Jousha Wong and supporters in Causeway Bay following Nathan Law's win in the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong on September 5, 2016.

Updated Sep 10, 2016

In 2014 21-year-old activist Nathan Law led mass protests for 79-days in Hong Kong’s financial centre, calling for more independence for the special administrative region from China.

Two years on, Law and five other activists have become the youngest lawmakers in the semi-autonomous territory. Hong Kong residents voted in record numbers on September 4, with many of the city-state's seven million people concerned about Beijing’s growing interference in political and civil liberties.

Law and his party, Demosisto, have changed the face of Hong Kong’s politics and serve an example of young people aiming for political change.

How has politics in Hong Kong changed?

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 after ruling the territory for 156 years as a colony.

As part of the terms of the handover agreement, Beijing assured that Hong Kong would retain its capitalist and liberal system for the next 50 years. But many Hong Kong citizens feel that China is now interfering with their personal freedom and threatening their rights.

In 2014, tens of thousands protesters – mostly young people – led by Law flooded the streets and paralysed Hong Kong's financial centre. They were protesting Beijing’s decision to pre-screen candidates for the Chief Executive elections in 2017, which will decide who will lead the government of the region.

The protests were dubbed the "Umbrella Movement" after demonstrators used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas fired by police.

Law later formed Demosisto in order to take part in the legislative elections in 2016.

The party said that it is "neither backed by large corporations nor submissive to dignatiaries." 

Electoral officers empty a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Hong Kong, China, September 5, 2016, following the Legislative Council election. (Reuters)

Why do young people want change?

The youth of Hong Kong want to determine how the territory is governed through their own democratic processes without Chinese interference. Despite Beijing’s 1997 promise to not to intervene Hong Kong’s system, the mainland still decides who to nominee for the position of chief executive.

Demosisto says there is growing distrust in Beijing, due to unkept promises and interference.

Hong Kong’s legislative council already had a democratic camp prior to the latest election, and the pro-democracy party wants to cooperate with it. The party says younger voices and social force are what the territory needs to bring about changes to the electoral system.

"A lot of people in society feel that the level of integration with the mainland has already gone too far," Law Professor David Zweig, from Hong Kong's University of Science and Technology, told TRT World.

"These people really reflect the view in society that the process of integration between Hong Kong and China should slow down or stop and in part they want to reverse it." he said.

Protesters holding yellow umbrellas gather to observe a moment of silence on Monday outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong to mark the first anniversary of the "Umbrella Movement." (AP)

Who is Nathan Law?

Law is one of the founders of  the Umbrella Movement. He later founded Demosisto in April 2016 before becoming youngest lawmaker in Hong Kong’s history following the September 2016 legislative council election.

Law is still a student at Lingnan University's Cultural Studies Depatment. He first got involved in Hong Kong politics in 2013 when he participated in a 40-day labour strike.

His party’s success in the elections came only a month after he was convicted of "inciting" others to take part in the umbrella protests of 2014.

Nathan Law, 23, chairman of the political party Demosisto, speaks to the press following the Legislative Council election, at the central counting station in Hong Kong on September 5, 2016. (AFP)

Are Demosisto's goals realistic and attainable?

Six young pro-democracy candidates including Demosisto leader Nathan Law were elected to the 70-seat legislative council. Law, who earned at least 50,000 votes, said the election result was a "miracle" and "nobody imagined this would happen." 

Their success in the election has allowed the pro-democracy bloc in the new legislature to maintain its veto. But the latest development won’t have a huge effect on the balance of power in the council because pro-Chinese groups still dominate it.

David Zweig told TRT World the main change brought about by the election is having a wider range of societal views reflected in the council, not who holds legislative power.

"These people represent a social force within society, not just the legislators," Zweig said.

For this reason Demosisto says its plan to create real change is long-term and requires hard work to make another "miracle" happen.

Law says his ultimate aim is for a referendum to be held on Hong Kong’s sovereignty in 2047, when the agreement between China and Britain establishing Hong Kong's autonomy is scheduled to expire.

Will China ever give up Hong Kong?

Some among the youth of Hong Kong hope China might eventually give Hong Kong up if a fully-democratic system comes about. But some analysts say China might tighten its grip on Hong Kong even further after the latest legislative elections.

Shortly after the elections, Chinese officials warned that anyone calling for independence could be punished.

David Zweig told TRT World that China has a problem with understanding why the people of Hong Kong don’t feel more patriotic 20 years of after the region officially became a part of China.

That is why China may become more anxious and put more pressure on Hong Kong instead of accommodating movements in Hong Kong which wish to distance the territory from Beijing.

But Zweig said this would ultimately be a mistake, because "every time Beijing tries to put more pressure on Hong Kong, Hong Kong society pushes back."

TRTWorld and agencies