By

Thomas Maresca

Voters wait in line to vote Sunday in the Tai Koo area for Hong Kong’s District Council elections. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
HONG KONG, Nov. 25 (UPI) — Hong Kong voters came out in record numbers and sent a stunning rebuke to the city’s government, with results coming in on Monday showing that pro-democracy candidates won over 85 percent of the seats up for grabs in District Council elections.

As of noon Monday, opposition candidates had claimed 388 seats to just 58 for pro-establishment candidates, according to a count by Hong Kong news website Stand News, with six contests still out The results mark a complete reversal of the District Council balance of power, which had been dominated by pro-establishment politicians.

Over 2.94 million Hong Kongers cast their ballots on Sunday, a turnout that represented 72.1 percent of registered voters, according to the Electoral Affairs Commission.

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That level of participation was by far the highest in Hong Kong’s history, in an election that was widely viewed as a referendum on the pro-democracy protest movement that has been roiling the city.

After a week that saw some of the worst violence in nearly six months of civil unrest, election day on Sunday was peaceful, with long lines at polling stations starting early in the morning and jubilant celebrations breaking out in the evening as returns began trickling in.

The startling results included defeats of high-profile, outspoken pro-Beijing candidates such as Junius Ho.

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On his official Facebook page, Ho wrote that “heaven and earth have been turned upside down.”

“This year was very abnormal, the election was very abnormal and the result was abnormal,” he added.

Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who had planned to run for a District Council seat in the South Horizons community but was disqualified by election officials, congratulated his substitute candidate Kelvin Lam on Twitter, who won with 57 percent of the vote, and said that the overall results sent a message that the pro-democracy movement still has the support of Hong Kong’s citizens.

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“The international community must acknowledge that, almost six months in, public opinion has not turned against the movement,” Wong wrote.

Jimmy Sham, one of the organizers of the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that has organized some of the largest protests in the pro-democracy movement, claimed victory in his District Council race in Sha Tin after suffering a brutal assault last month that left him hospitalized.

Pro-democracy District Councilor Andrew Chiu, who was also attacked earlier this month and had part of his ear bitten off, held onto his seat in Tai Koo in an election that he called “a chance for Hong Kong people to express our anger and our grievance to our government.”

While the District Council is limited in its powers, which focus primarily on municipal-level issues such as parking, trash collection and building maintenance, the victory gives pro-democracy politicians a greater voice in selecting Hong Kong’s chief executive. District councilors account for 117 seats on the 1,200-member election committee that selects the city’s leader.

The overwhelming margin of victory may also put additional pressure on Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular leader, Carrie Lam, to address the demands of the protest movement.

As news of the election results came out, several U.S. politicians offered congratulations on social media.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., one of the sponsors of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which passed through both chambers of Congress last week and awaits President Donald Trump‘s signature, called the results a “massive pro-democracy landslide.”

“China, take notice,” he wrote. “The people are speaking.”