Brief: 4 Sept. 2016 (5 Sept. U.S. time) Hong Kong elected 30 pro-democracy candidates to the Legistlative Council, including prominent members from the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. With only 40 electable positions, Hong Kong’s citizens have shown that they remain steadfast to their pro-independent ideals.
Implications: A majority of pro-independence politicians within the Legislative Council means that Hong Kong can retain its veto powers against the pro-Beijing establishment. This signals that the Umbrella Revolution is still alive and its politicians are respected by the citizens of Hong Kong. China watchers — Keep a close eye on the actions of the incumbents. Beijing could not afford to reject these pro-independent politicians from running –suggesting caution if not some vulnerability– but Beijing has allowed them to be elected and Xi Jinping will strike hard to repress any incumbent that pushes too hard for independence.
Analysis: The Legislative Council, aka “Legco”, passes the budget and laws of Hong Kong and is comprised of 70 seats. Of these 70 seats, 35 seats represent geographical constituencies elected by the populous and 35 are made up of “functional constituencies”, the majority of which are filled by pro-Beijing politicians. While 30 of these 35 “functional constituencies” are selected by Beijing, the other 5 (called “super seats”) are electable by Hong Kong. Thus, 40 seats in the Legislative council are electable and the other 30 are not.
This election year has only moderately increased the anti-establishment’s position by 2 members, bringing the total to 29 (the 30th member is pro-democratic, but unaligned).
While it is clear where the citizens of Hong Kong stand, Hong Kong’s independence remains impossible under Beijing’s strong and increasingly authoritarian tendencies. In fact, one of Xi Jinping’s hallmarks as Chairman of the Communist Party has been that no one is off limits when it comes down to consolidating his position — and you can bet that Umbrella Revolution leaders in official positions of power constitute a threat to Xi Jinping. One of these incumbents, only 23 years old and born out of the Umbrella Revolution, is already talking quite radically:
“We inherit[ed] some spirit from the [Umbrella] movement … We still have to unite in order to have stronger power to fight the Chinese Communist Party.” — Nathan Law (Umbrella Revolution Leader, Demosistō Party) Reuters
The Umbrella Revolution leaders are in a precarious position, they were elected for their radical ideals, but pushing too hard for independence will certainly lead to their political elimination. The best way to preserve the momentum of the Umbrella Movement might be to follow Deng Xiaoping’s advice: lay low and galvanize your political positions. This means pro-independence incumbents should walk a fine line when confronting Beijing to avoid getting disappeared for their actions.