HONG KONG - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday the results of local elections in which opposition candidates won nearly 90 percent of contested seats may be a reflection of unhappiness with her administration and its handling of pro-democracy protests.
Lam said voters expressed their views on "deficiencies in governance," and repeated her calls for an end to violent demonstrations. She also reiterated her previous pledge to carry out public dialogue to address the issues underlying the unrest, while offering no concrete concessions.
Voters on Sunday delivered a stunning rebuke to Beijing, and the results mean the pro-democracy bloc will control 17 of 18 district councils after having previously controlled zero.
The election was a major symbolic blow to pro-China forces that dominate Hong Kong politics, and the latest evidence of continued public support for a five-month-old pro-democracy movement that has become increasingly aggressive.
"Hong Kongers have spoken out, loud and clear. The international community must acknowledge that, almost six months in, public opinion has NOT turned against the movement," student activist Joshua Wong said on Twitter.
This is historic. Early returns suggest a landslide victory for the opposition camp. Hong Kongers have spoken out, loud and clear. The international community must acknowledge that, almost six months in, public opinion has NOT turned against the movement. https://t.co/zHFfC85YgC— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) November 24, 2019
"This is a sweeping victory, far beyond people's expectations," David Zweig, professor emeritus at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said.
The vote will not significantly change the balance of power in Hong Kong's quasi-democratic political system. District council members have no power to pass legislation; they deal mainly with hyperlocal issues, such as noise complaints and bus stop locations.
However, the district council vote is seen as one of the most reliable indicators of public opinion, since it is the only fully democratic election in Hong Kong.
Nearly three million people voted in the election -- a record high for Hong Kong, and more than double the turnout of the previous district council election in 2015.
Voters formed long lines that snaked around city blocks outside polling stations across the territory, many waiting more than an hour to vote.
Hong Kong saw a major surge in voter registration, particularly among young people. Nearly 386,000 people have registered to vote in the past year, the most since at least 2003.
Many Hong Kongers are concerned about what they see as an erosion of the "one country, two systems" policy that Beijing has used to govern Hong Kong since it was returned by Britain in 1997.
China said it is committed to the "one country, two systems" principle, but has slammed the protesters as rioters. In some cases, Chinese state media have compared the protesters to the terror groups Taliban or Islamic State.