Hong Kong’s local polls test support for ongoing protests


>>Sreenivasan: PRO-DEMOCRACY SUPPORT IN HONG KONG WAS TESTED AT THE POLLS TODAY AS RESIDENTS VOTED IN LOCAL DISTRICT COUNCIL ELECTIONS. TURNOUT WAS HIGH AND THE VOTE WAS PEACEFUL, IN CONTRAST TO THE VIOLENT ANTI-GOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATIONS THAT HAVE PITTED HONG KONG’S GOVERNMENT AGAINST PRO-DEMOCRACY DEMONSTRATORS OVER THE PAST SIX MONTHS. 452 SEATS WERE AT STAKE IN HONG KONG’S 18 DISTRICT COUNCILS AND THE RESULTS ARE EXPECTED TO BE A REFERENDUM ON THE CONFLICT. JOINING US NOW VIA SKYPE FROM HONG KONG IS “NEW YORK TIMES” REPORTER AUSTIN RAMZY. AUSTIN, WE SAW THE PICTURES OF PEOPLE LINED UP. HOW SIGNIFICANT WAS THIS TURNOUT?>>THE TURNOUT WAS HUGE. 71% OF ELIGIBLE VOTERS, ALMOST THREE-MILLION PEOPLE, LONG LINES AT LOTS OF POLLING STATIONS AROUND THE CITY. HUGE INTEREST IN THIS, THIS ELECTION.>>Sreenivasan: SO, IT COMES DOWN TO THE PRO-BEIJING PARTY AND THE PRO-DEMOCRACY PARTY. ARE THOSE THE TWO KIND OF BIGGEST ONES THAT ARE FIGHTING FOR ALL OF THESE SMALLER SEATS?>>YES. I MEAN, IT IS DIVIDED AMONG SEVERAL PARTIES AND SEVERAL UNAFFILIATED CANDIDATES, BUT THOSE ARE THE TWO LARGEST CAMPS, THE SORT OF ESTABLISHMENT, PRO BEIJING CAMP AND THEN THE PRO DEMOCRACY CAMP.>>Sreenivasan: AND WHAT IS THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF THIS ELECTION? IS THIS WHAT DECIDES THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL THAT MAKES THE RULES OR HOW DOES– I MEAN, OTHERWISE WE WOULD NOT BE TALKING ABOUT A RELATIVELY SMALL CITY COUNCIL ELECTION.>>THAT’S RIGHT. IT IS SURPRISING THAT THERE HAS BEEN SO MUCH INTEREST AND FOCUS ON THIS ELECTION. THE DISTRICT COUNCIL DEALS WITH VERY LOCAL ISSUES. AS I SAW THE CANDIDATES CAMPAIGNING IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD THEY HAD SIGNS ABOUT, YOU KNOW, TRASH CLEANUP AND BUS STOP PLACEMENT AND TAKING CARE OF LEAKY AIR CONDITIONERS THAT WERE DRIPPING FROM BUILDINGS, VERY, VERY LOCAL THINGS LIKE THAT. BUT THEY DO HAVE A ROLE IN SELECTING THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE ON SORT OF A CONVOLUTED, SEMI- DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM. THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE IS CHOSEN BY A PANEL OF ABOUT 1,200 PEOPLE AND THE DISTRICT COUNCILS CHOOSE ABOUT 120 OF THOSE, OR ABOUT 10% OF THOSE. SO IT DOES HAVE A ROLE IN CHOOSING A TOP OFFICE, BUT THE OTHER REASON THIS VOTE IS SO IMPORTANT IS IT HAS BEEN A REFERENDUM ON THE PROTESTS.>>Sreenivasan: WHILE YOU AND I ARE TALKING, THEY ARE STILL COUNTING THE VOTES AND IT IS KIND OF TOO EARLY TO SAY EXACTLY HOW THIS ELECTION IS BREAKING AT THE MOMENT, BUT LET’S SAY, FOR EXAMPLE, LET’S KIND OF GO THROUGH BOTH SCENARIOS. IF THE PRO BEIJING PARTY HAS A, WHATEVER, A DECISIVE WIN AND THEY ARE THE ONES WHO WILL BE ELECTING THE KIND OF, THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF HONG KONG, WHAT DOES THAT SAY TO THE DEMONSTRATORS? ARE THEY GOING TO SAY, OKAY, WELL, WE LOST THIS ROUND, THAT’S IT, NO MORE PROTESTS?>>YEAH, SO IF THAT SCENARIO WERE TO HAPPEN, AND I– IT SEEMS LIKE THE LESS LIKELY OF THE SCENARIOS, IT WOULD SORT OF SAY THAT PEOPLE HAVE HAD ENOUGH, PEOPLE ARE TIRED OF THE DISRUPTIONS RELATED TO THE PROTESTS AND WOULD START MOVING TOWARD THE ESTABLISHMENT. THE PRO-BEIJING CAMP HAS TRADITIONALLY WON THIS ELECTION BECAUSE IT HAS MORE MONEY AND IT IS BETTER ORGANIZED AT THE VERY GRASSROOTS LEVEL, SO THEY HAVE WON THIS ELECTION EVER SINCE HONG KONG BECAME A PART OF CHINA.>>Sreenivasan: SO, NOW LET’S TRY THE INVERSE: IF THE PRO- DEMOCRACY GROUPS WIN THIS ELECTION WHAT DOES THAT SIGNAL TO CHINA?>>THAT WOULD BE QUITE A BIG SHOCK. AS I SAID, YOU KNOW, THIS IS AN ELECTION THAT HAS SORT OF HAS BEEN CONTROLLED BY THE PRO- ESTABLISHMENT CAMP, AND AS RETURNS ARE COMING IN WE ALREADY HAVE SEEN SOME VERY PROMINENT NAMES FROM THE ESTABLISHMENT CAMP LOST. PRO-DEMOCRATS HAVE PICKED UP A LOT OF SEATS, BUT WE DON’T KNOW IF IT WILL BE ENOUGH SEATS TO CONTROL ALL OF THE DISTRICT COUNCILS, BUT A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF SEATS, AND WE WILL SORT OF– THIS IS THE FIRST TIME WHERE THOSE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE THAT HAVE BEEN ON THE STREET HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN ABLE TO CAST A VOTE. AND IT WILL REALLY PUT THOSE, THOSE NUMBERS WILL ACTUALLY HAVE SOME MEANING.>>Sreenivasan: ALL RIGHT, AUSTIN RAMZY OF THE “NEW YORK TIMES” JOINING US VIA SKYPE FROM HONG KONG TONIGHT. THANK YOU SO MUCH.>>MY PLEASURE.

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