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In Hong Kong, Pro-Democracy Candidates Make Gains In Election


Pro-democracy citizens of Hong Kong used democracy to make their point. Record numbers turned out for local elections. They elected many candidates associated with Hong Kong's protest movement. They defeated candidates considered closer to China's central government. It has been easy up to now for Beijing to criticize protests as disorderly in Hong Kong, but it is harder to dismiss a free election. And in a statement today, Carrie Lam acknowledged it. Lam is the chief executive of Hong Kong, chosen through a process that assures she is close to the central government. Lam says her government respects the results and will, quote, "listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect." So what are some members of the public saying? NPR's Emily Feng is among them. And, Emily, where are you exactly?

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: I'm right outside the gates of Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It's the university where students and protesters and first-aid volunteers barricaded themselves in Sunday. They've been stuck ever since. Many made it out, but a small handful remain. And today, a number of newly elected district councilors negotiated their way in. They're making an announcement right now. They're trying to rescue the protesters trapped inside. And we'll see if they succeed.

INSKEEP: OK. So it's a reminder that the protest movement continues. The civil disobedience continues. And yet there was this election. How did the results turn out?

FENG: Well, they were a landslide for the pan-democratic party, as they now control 17 out of the 18 district councils across Hong Kong. And that's important because the district councilors - while they don't make laws, they do comprise about one-tenth of a committee that chooses the next city leader. People don't vote for their leader here. There's a committee. And district councilors make up one-tenth of that. And so they could tip that in favor of a more democratic, anti-Beijing candidate.

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting. So they have a certain amount of influence, even if not a lot of power. And as you've pointed out in your reporting, they mostly focus on local or hyperlocal issues. But their very election, the very results of the election sends a message. So what has the city been like after that?

FENG: Last night, they were in outright celebration. It was the first real joy that I've seen in a while among protesters - not just simply anger. But that emotion was mixed. I went today to a lunchtime protest in one of Hong Kong's fanciest business districts. It was mostly attended by financial service analysts and professionals. But one of them, a 26-year-old analyst named Jackson Cheng (ph), told me he felt the elections were a brief and bittersweet victory.

JACKSON CHENG: I was happy at that moment, but I kind of think of what we have paid for such votes. We are paying a lot for such results. So we deserve that. So that shouldn't be unexpected, shouldn't be a surprise.

FENG: He means he's - they're paid for these - this landslide by sacrificing the lives of these protesters that are stuck inside. And so that's why hundreds are now outside Polytechnic's gates, trying to get these activists and volunteers out.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm just thinking people protest in a democratic system when they think the system is not responding to them, has become rigged or unfair. Now there has been this election result, symbolic in some ways, though, it may be. Is this enough to persuade people that the system can respond to them?

FENG: Let's see. No one really knows. I mean, Beijing has not come out with an official statement yet. State media in China has said that they're not happy with the results of the election. They think that foreign powers have meddled to throw the results. And in terms of how this might affect the protests, it really depends on how the Hong Kong and Beijing governments respond. If managed well, this vote could be a pathway towards the more large, peaceful protests that we saw earlier in the movement. But if they ignore the requests put forth by these new councilors, that might leave voters feeling disenfranchised and escalate protests further.

INSKEEP: NPR's Emily Feng is on the streets of Hong Kong. Emily, thanks for your reporting.

FENG: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.