Polls opened in Hong Kong’s district council elections on Sunday, with security having been tightened around the city.
Usually an unremarkable local election, this year a record 4.1 million Hong Kongers have registered to vote, including 400,000 new voters enticed by registration campaigns. This year’s elections are widely seen as a referendum on the popularity of the city’s chief executive after five months of unrelenting protest.
While district councils are normally dominated by the city executive’s pro-Beijing allies, pro-democracy candidates are hoping that this year, voters will signal their discontent with Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the pro-Beijing government.
Political and social unrest in Hong Kong began in June with opposition to an extradition bill with China. Although the bill was eventually withdrawn, the protests grew into a wider movement against the city government with demands including more direct democracy and inquires into police brutality.
Hong Kong’s ‘real democratic exercise’
More than 1,000 candidates are contesting 452 seats in 18 districts, in a poll that is the closest voters in the Chinese administrative region can get to directly electing representatives.
For the first time in district elections, riot police have been deployed to all of the city’s polling stations, and almost all officers in the city’s 31,000-strong force will be on duty, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Hong Kong was reportedly calm on Saturday as pro-democracy groups posted on social media urging citizens to vote and not carry out disruptive acts in order to avoid “jeopardizing the election.”
The messages also urged young voters to turn up early and “avoid wearing black shirts and masks” commonly worn by the protesters.
According to SCMP, the streets were empty of protesters Saturday, except for a few dozen refusing to leave the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in a week-long siege that has exacerbated tension between police and protesters.
“If you create massive chaos or carry out unlawful deeds it will be difficult to hold a fair election,” government Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said Saturday. “It’s a real democratic exercise. I really want people to treasure it.”
wmr/aw (AFP, Reuters)
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