The thumping victory of Hong Kong’s pan-democrats in Sunday’s district council elections will give the opposition more political clout to advance their cause.

Although district councils are on the bottom rung of the city’s governance hierarchy – advisory bodies with no legislative or appropriation power to scrutinize the government – the record-high voter turnout of 71% amid the months-long unrest turned the otherwise low-level polls into a referendum on Hongkongers’ feelings about the anti-government protests.

The government’s intransigent bid to enact an extradition bill to allow the rendition of fugitives to mainland China and elsewhere was the cause of the unrest. Now those newly elected will rule the roost at almost all the 18 district councils throughout the city for the next four years, having won 388 seats from a total of 452.

The bloc can now gain five seats in the new Legislative Council via the district council functional constituency in next year’s LegCo election by nominating some popular district councilors, while their rivals in the pro-establishment group will only be also-rans amid the seething angst toward the government.

Carrie Lam had 777 votes from a total of 1,200 to become Hong Kong’s leader during a well-orchestrated election in 2017. Photo: Xinhua

Now it is also clear that the opposition will have more power to scupper Beijing’s screenplay for the chief executive election in 2022, since the camp stands to clinch all 117 seats reserved for district councilors in the 1,200-strong CE election committee, on top of the 300-plus seats the camp usually holds.

So the pan-dems will make up more than one-third of the election committee, meaning there will be less sway Beijing can exert in a CE election since the city’s 1997 handover.

The pan-dems’ win in the district polls has apparently complicated the plot and made Beijing feel less secure when anointing the city’s next leader through a pro forma election process, when in the past the CE election committee was stacked with loyalists.

Such a “dire prospect” could explain why Beijing cadres were “set aback” by the drubbing the pro-establishment camp suffered.

Wu Chi-wai, chair of the Democratic Party, told the Ming Pao daily that the whole opposition would have a bigger bargaining chip, or quid pro quo for political and electoral reforms, and that determining who could lead Hong Kong in 2022 would never be a core issue if reforms and democratization were stalled.

It is also believed that the pan-dems may seek collaborations from the vital minority, like some liberal businessmen who also sit on the CE election committee, to form a synergy to be the kingmaker.

Read more: State media silent on Hong Kong election results