Hong Kong‘s deeply unpopular leader Carrie Lam acknowledged on Tuesday that a weekend poll result revealed public dissatisfaction with her government, but offered no new concessions to the city’s pro-democracy movement, whose candidates dominated the local elections.
The district council elections on Sunday laid bare concern over “deficiencies in the government, including unhappiness with the time taken to deal with the current unstable environment and of course to end violence”, Lam acknowledged at a weekly press briefing.
Lam pledged that her government would “seriously reflect” on the outcome of the polls in which her pro-Beijing establishment took a severe drubbing, and would “improve governance”.
But she also said that Hong Kong “could no longer tolerate this chaotic situation.”
“Everybody wants to go back to their normal life and this requires concerted efforts of every one of us.”
In a rout that stunned the self-governing Chinese territory, pro-democracy candidates won an overwhelming majority of the 452 elected seats in the city’s 18 district councils, which have historically been firmly in the grip of a Beijing-aligned establishment.
The result, the first vote to be held since protests engulfed the city in June was a humiliating rebuke to Beijing and to Lam who has dismissed calls for political reform and repeatedly suggested that a silent majority supported her administration.
The poll outcome has re-energised calls by the pro-democracy camp for direct popular elections for the city’s leadership and legislature and a probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.
But Lam sidestepped those calls, instead reiterating an earlier pledge to open a dialogue among all parties in the territory, a proposal that opponents have dismissed as too little, too late.
“What we need to do now is (open) community dialogue and invite social leaders to help us analyse the causes of the disturbances and Hong Kong’s deep-seated social problems, and to come up with solutions,” Lam said.
US ambassador to China summoned
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Hong Kong, said Lam’s reaction to the electoral defeat could also determine whether people would return to the streets and protest, or stay at home in the coming days.
The result of Sunday’s elections could also force the central government in Beijing to rethink how to handle the unrest, which is now in its sixth month.
The district councils have little power, but the vote became a referendum on public support for the protests.
Meanwhile, China’s state media downplayed the result of the voting, and accused Western countries of increasing the unrest.
Xinhua news agency accused US politicians of “playing with fire” after passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
The Hong Kong bill awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature supports human rights and democracy in the city, while threatening to revoke the territory’s special economic status.
A separate measure bans the sale of tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and other equipment used by the security forces to suppress pro-democracy protests.
Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned US ambassador Terry Branstad on Monday to voice a “strong protest” over the bill, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
The legislation “brazenly interferes in China’s internal affairs” and “indulges and supports the violent criminal behaviour by ‘anti-China disrupting Hong Kong’ forces,” the ministry said.
Trump has not indicated whether he would sign the legislation into law, saying last week that while he stood with Hong Kong, he also stood with his “friend”, President Xi Jinping.
The foreign ministry urged the US to “immediately correct its mistakes, prevent the above-mentioned Hong Kong-related bill from becoming law, and stop any words and deeds that interfere in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
“Otherwise, the US side must bear all the consequences,” it said.