Candidates opposed to China's influence over Hong Kong won a majority of seats in local council elections in the city, results showed Monday.
Candidates wanting to loosen the influence of China over the city's affairs won the majority of 452 district councillors in the city's 18 district councils, bodies that have historically been in the hands of a Beijing-aligned establishment.
Opposition candidates won 388 seats, a net gain of 263, according to local media. The establishment held onto 59 seats and five went to independents.
The councils handle mundane community-level issues and the polls generally generate little excitement, but Sunday's election took on political significance due to five months of anti-government protests and drew the largest voter turnout in Hong Kong's history.
The result was a blow to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who had previously implied she had the support of a silent majority in the face of anti-government protests that have often turned violent since they began five months ago.
“The government will certainly listen humbly to citizens' opinions and reflect on them seriously,” Lam said in a government statement.
Lam gave no indication of her next move, but opponents called on her to accede to five key demands including direct elections for the city's legislature and leadership, as well as an investigation into alleged police brutality against protesters.
“The voters used the most peaceful way to tell the government that we won't accept Hong Kong becoming a police state and an authoritarian regime,” said Wu Chi-wai, chairperson of the Democratic Party, the city's largest anti-establishment party.
Millions of people demonstrated earlier this year after Lam's administration introduced a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China.
It was eventually withdrawn, but public anger fuelled broader demands and ongoing protests against the influence of Beijing on the city's affairs.
China's foreign ministry said the central government firmly supported Lam and that it was committed to restoring order in the city.
“No matter what kind of things happen in Hong Kong, Hong Kong is a part of Chinese territory,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters.