A Symbolic Victory in Hong Kong
With record turnout, pro-democracy politicians won Hong Kong’s local elections by a landslide—a result that’s likely to embolden protesters.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement wins big at the polls, a document leak reveals new details of China’s internment camps in Xinjiang, and what to watch in the world this week.
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Pro-Democracy Candidates Win Big in Hong Kong
Voters in Hong Kong turned out in record numbers in local elections on Sunday, giving pro-democracy candidates a big victory: They will control 17 of 18 of the city’s district councils and pro-democracy and independent candidates won over 86 percent of all seats. The only council remaining in pro-Beijing hands is the Islands district, “where eight seats were handed out automatically to pro-establishment rural chiefs,” according to the South China Morning Post.
By the time polls closed at 10:30 p.m., more than 71 percent of the electorate had voted—almost half of Hong Kong’s population, and many of them first-time voters. The massive turnout and the landslide victory for democracy campaigners are a resounding and official rebuke of the current government after six months of increasingly violent unrest. The results included some upset wins in solid pro-Beijing seats—including one previously held by Junius Ho, a pro-establishment figure reviled by protesters because he defended a mob of suspected Triad gangsters, who assaulted members of the public at a train station in July.
The local elections took on increased importance against the backdrop of the protests and the results are likely to embolden activists—a significant challenge for the Chinese government. Carrie Lam, the city’s embattled chief executive reacted to the results by vowing to “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect.”
What will this really change? Hong Kong’s district councils wield power over hyper-local issues—parks, trash collection, traffic lights—and the election results aren’t likely to have immediate political consequences. The results will almost certainly boost the city’s democracy movement. And it could eventually shape Hong Kong’s leadership: The district councils are able to select members for the committee that selects the chief executive.
A day of calm. While riot police officers were deployed at polling stations around Hong Kong, the city was relatively calm on Sunday—particularly after a week of violence on university campuses. Chinese media said Monday the elections had been “an opportunity to return the city to normal.” But the results suggest protesters could be back in the streets soon.
What We’re Following Today
More Chinese documents on Xinjiang internment camps leaked. A leak of classified Chinese government documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on Sunday reveals new details about China’s crackdown on ethnic Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region since 2017. The leak includes a directive on how the “re-education” camps should be controlled as the number of detainees grows. (This follows another leak of Xinjiang documents to the New York Times this month.) While the source of the new documents is unknown, the leak could signal further dissent within the Chinese Communist Party over the mass internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Bloomberg formally launches U.S. presidential bid. Businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the richest people in the world, officially announced on Sunday that he would run for president of the United States as a Democrat in 2020. The late entrance—just 10 weeks before the primaries—is unusual, but it reflects growing anxiety within the Democratic Party about the current candidates’ ability to defeat President Donald Trump, up for reelection. Bloomberg’s approach to foreign policy would likely be shaped first by international capital markets, Thomas Meaney argued in FP in 2016.
[FP has tracked where the other Democratic candidates stand on foreign-policy issues here.]
Netanyahu’s party could seek new leader. Pressure is mounting on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign after his indictment on corruption charges last week, and local media report that his Likud party could hold a leadership vote within six weeks, though the timeline has not been confirmed. Gideon Saar, a former education minister, has said he would challenge Netanyahu. The charges against the prime minister—which he denies—come amid political deadlock in Israel, which will face a third election if a government is not formed in three weeks. But it still may be to soon to count Netanyahu out, Joshua Mitnick reports for FP.
The World This Week
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, today in Doha. Turkey and Qatar are close allies and economic partners, particularly since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017.
Bolivia’s military will begin withdrawing from protest areas this week and activist groups will order demonstrators to stand down, following a deal with the interim government. The agreement comes after lawmakers annulled the disputed Oct. 20 election result and laid the groundwork for a new election without ex-President Evo Morales.
Voters go to the polls in Namibia on Wednesday in what could be the country’s first close election since independence in 1990. The ruling SWAPO party has been damaged by a bribery scandal, and President Hage Geingob faces an unlikely challenger: a dentist. Foreign powers like China, which has a uranium monopoly in Namibia, will be watching closely.
Keep an Eye On
Chile’s economic upheaval. Over a month ago, Chile erupted in protest first over a subway fare hike and then over simmering economic inequality issues. The unrest comes despite the fact that Chile has been hailed as a free-market economic miracle. Forging a new constitution could dismantle that status quo, Jimmy Langman reports for FP.
What’s next for Uruguay. A center-right former senator, Luis Lacalle Pou, appeared set for a narrow victory in Uruguay’s presidential election on Sunday that would mark the latest defeat for the left in Latin America. The center-left Broad Front had championed largely popular social policies—like legalizing marijuana—but voters could be frustrated with a recent slowdown in economic growth.
The threat from Tehran. Iran has recently lashed out against the U.S. maximum pressure campaign. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the top U.S. general in the Middle East, said Friday that he believes another attack like the Iran-sponsored strikes on Saudi Aramco is “very possible.” That threat comes despite the U.S. military buildup in the region, FP’s Lara Seligman reports.
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Odds and Ends
In January, Norway raised its tax on chocolates and other candy by over 80 percent, leading nationwide sugar consumption to reach a record low. But the price hike has been a boon for sweet shops across the border in Sweden, which bring in an annual 2 billion Swedish kroner (more than $200 million), the Guardian reports.
That’s it for today.
Photo: Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images