Hong Kong Leader Refuses to Give Ground Despite Poll Setback

A record 71% of Hong Kong's 4.1 million registered voters cast ballots in the city's only fully democratic elections

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Kyle Lam/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam refused to offer any concessions to anti-government protesters despite a local election trouncing, saying Tuesday that she will instead accelerate dialogue and identify ways to address societal grievances.

Lam said the central government in Beijing didn't blame her for the election outcome that gave the pro-democracy bloc a landslide victory with 90 percent of seats and control of 17 out of 18 district councils.

Nearly 3 million voters cast their ballot in a record turnout for an election that was viewed as a barometer of public support for more than five months of pro-democracy protests. The government's refusal to compromise despite the election outcome could spark fresh unrest at a time when the semi-autonomous Chinese territory has plunged into its first recession in a decade.

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Lam said Sunday's election may have reflected unhappiness with the government handling of the unrest but it also showed that many people want a stop to violence.

"Let me just stress that after these five-six months, Hong Kong people have realized very clearly that Hong Kong could no longer tolerate this chaotic situation," Lam said at her weekly news conference. "Please help us to maintain the relative calm and peace that we have seen in the last week or so and provide a good basis for Hong Kong to move forward."

In early September when she withdrew an extradition bill that sparked the protests, Lam said she had also given a detailed response to protesters' other demands including free elections for the city's leader and legislature, as well as a probe into accusations of police brutality.

She said the government hopes to take advantage of the current lull in violence to accelerate public dialogue and set up an independent review committee to find solutions to deep-seated societal issues.

"The next step to go forward is really, as you have put it, to engage the people. And we have started public dialogue with the community," Lam said. "But unfortunately, with the unstable environment and a chaotic situation, I could not do more on that sort of engagement. I hope that the environment will allow me to do it now."

Some pro-establishment figures have pointed fingers at Lam for their loss, while the pro-democracy camp has asked her to step down.

Protesters saw the extradition bill as an the erosion of their rights promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997. The demonstrations have since expanded into a protest over what they see as Beijing's growing interference in the city.

Some analysts said China's ruling party isn't likely to soften its stand on Hong Kong. Chinese media has muted reports on the poll outcome, focusing instead on how pro-Beijing candidates were harassed and the need to restore law and order.

Beijing is treading cautiously partly to avoid jeopardizing trade talks with the United States. It also faces pressure from planned U.S. legislation that could derail Hong Kong's special trade status and sanction Hong Kong and China officials found to violate human rights.

China's foreign ministry on Monday summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad for a second time to demand Washington block the bipartisan legislation on Hong Kong. Chinese Vice Minister Zheng Zeguang warned the U.S. would "bear all the consequences that arise" if the bill came into law.

President Donald Trump has not committed to signing the bill and has 10 days from the time of passage last week to veto it. If he does not do so, it automatically becomes law while Congress could also override a veto with a two-thirds majority in both houses.

In a boost to the city, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange Tuesday, rising nearly 7 percent in a strong before losing most of its gains later morning. Alibaba's share sale of at least $11.3 billion in its secondary listing is the world's biggest this year.

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