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Election reshapes Hong Kong’s political landscape

Nathan Law, center, the former student protest leader, spoke at a rally Monday after being elected to the Legislative Council.
Nathan Law, center, the former student protest leader, spoke at a rally Monday after being elected to the Legislative Council.Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

HONG KONG — A group of young Hong Kong prodemocracy activists pulled off a stunning election victory, gaining a foothold in the southern Chinese city’s legislature and setting the stage for a new round of political confrontations with Beijing, official results showed Monday.

The candidates, who helped lead massive 2014 prodemocracy street protests, will now seek a vote on changing the way the city is governed by China’s Communist leaders, but they’ll face resistance from Beijing, which rejects separatism.

Final results showed that overall, prodemocracy candidates won 30 of 70 seats in the Legislative Council, three more than previously.

That means the bloc retains the power to block government attempts to enact unpopular legislation, such as a Beijing-backed revamp of how the city’s top leader is chosen that sparked the 2014 protests.

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Only half the legislative council seats are filled by popular vote. They others are held by representatives of corporations, associations, and chambers of commerce, but the reformists have enough clout to effectively veto legislation proposed by the pro-China camp.

Record turnout in Sunday’s vote helped sweep the newcomers into office, most notably Nathan Law, a 23-year-old former student protest leader, who garnered the second-highest number of votes in his six-seat Hong Kong Island constituency.

Law’s party, Demosisto, founded this year with teen protest leader Joshua Wong, advocates a referendum on ‘‘self-determination’’ on the future status of Hong Kong, which is in the middle of a 50-year transition period to Chinese rule.

In another surprising result, Yau Wai-Ching, 25, and Sixtus ‘‘Baggio’’ Leung, 30, of Youngspiration, also secured seats. Their group was formed during the 2014 protests and proposes a similar plan as Demosisto.

The results are a sign ‘‘that Hong Kong people want to resist,’’ said Leung. ‘‘This is what Beijing should know. When we can’t trust ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law to maintain the distinction between Hong Kong’s system and Beijing, then the next step, the answer is to cut things off.’’

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Under the principle of ‘‘one country, two systems’’ and the Basic Law constitution, Beijing is supposed to let Hong Kong keep its capitalist economic and political system separate from mainland China’s until 2047.

The newcomers pulled off their startling victories by riding a rising tide of anti-China sentiment as they challenged formidably resourced pro-Beijing rivals.

They were part of a broader wave of activists who campaigned for Hong Kong’s complete autonomy or even independence from China, highlighting fears that Beijing is violating its promise to let the city mostly run itself, as well as frustration over the failure of the 2014 protests to win true elections for Hong Kong’s top leader.

That represents a break with the mainstream ‘‘pan-democrat’’ parties, which have demanded voters be able to elect more lawmakers as well as the city’s top leader, or chief executive — currently chosen by a panel of pro-Beijing elites — but never challenged the idea that Hong Kong is part of China.

Leaders in Beijing and Hong Kong will have to reconsider their hard-line approach toward rising prodemocracy opposition after it backfired, ‘‘because now with the entry of a new generation of young democrats into the legislature, the politics inside the legislature will be very fierce,’’ said Sonny Lo, a political analyst at The Education University of Hong Kong.