UMBRELLA SOLDIERS

Two years after the Occupy protests, Hong Kong’s youth made big gains in a record-breaking election

Voters in Hong Kong showed they’re willing to put their future in the hands of politicians as young as 23, casting aside some of the most well known faces in local politics in the process.

Hong Kongers turned up in record numbers for the polls on Sunday (Sept. 4) to vote for members of the new Legislative Council. The council has long been controlled by pro-Beijing politicians, but holding on to veto power with one third of the seats is necessary for the opposition to push back against proposed legislation that could tighten the Chinese Communist Party’s over Hong Kong.

The final results came in at around 7pm Monday evening, after counting was delayed because long queues forced polling stations to close well after the cut-off time. The opposition camp won 29 seats, compared to 27 in the previous LegCo, and more than the 24 seats needed for the one-third threshold it needs to have veto power in the chamber. And by Monday afternoon, the after-effects of 2014’s Occupy protests, or Umbrella Movement, could already be viscerally felt.

Six seats have gone to new politicians allied with Occupy and other anti-Beijing protests. Some replaced established pro-democratic politicians, who have been fighting for democracy for three decades in Hong Kong. Of the 70 seats, 55 have been announced, with 22 going to pro-democracy candidates.

Student activist Joshua Wong carries banners of Nathan Law, candidate from Demosisto on election day for the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, September 4, 2016. (REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)

Nathan Law at 23 became the youngest legislator in Hong Kong ever. Law, a cultural studies student at Lingnan University and e-sports fanatic, formed political party Demosistō this year with Joshua Wong after his student protest group Scholarism disbanded. Wong, 19, did not meet the age limit of 21 for running in LegCo elections. Mainland China-born Law was head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a university student group, whose members took part in a televised debate with Hong Kong officials during the Occupy protests.

Demosistō advocates self-determination for Hong Kong people through a referendum ahead of the 2047 expiration date of Beijing’s “no change for 50 years” to the city in 1997.

Youngspiration, a party formed months after the Occupy protests ended, picked up two LegCo seats through Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, who is just 25. The party wants Hong Kong to become a city-state some day, and may have won thanks to younger voters who support Hong Kong independence, after the government last month banned a number of pro-independence candidates from running in the elections.

Hong Kong Legislative Council candidate Cheng Chung-tai (C) of Civic Passion waits for results to come through in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council elections, Hong Kong, 5 September 2016. (EPA/Alex Hofford)

Radical group Civic Passion, which ran as part of an alliance on a localist platform—meaning it advocates protecting Hong Kong’s interests over the mainland’s—managed to pick up one seat. Winner Cheng Chung-tai, a 33 year-old academic, said his priority in LegCo would be for Hong Kong to take back the “authority to check and accept applications” of mainland Chinese who want to settle in the city.

Independent candidate Lau Siu-lai, a lecturer who was arrested during this year’s Fishball Revolution riots for selling squid at a stall, also managed to win a seat.

Eddie Chu weeps after winning a seat in the Legislative Council election, in Hong Kong, September 5, 2016. (REUTERS/Tyrone Siu)

The biggest shock came in the New Territories, which borders mainland China, typically seen as a shoo-in for pro-establishment parties because of its rural and older population. Eddie Chu, 38, a long-time social activist who ran on an environmental and land rights platform and advocated smashing the power of government and real-estate developers in Hong Kong’s countryside, won the largest individual number of votes out of all the candidates with over 80,000.

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