A record number of voters have turned out for Hong Kong’s district council elections on Sunday, with no major protests reported by early afternoon.
Usually an unremarkable local election, this year a record 4.1 million Hong Kongers had registered to vote. More than 1.5 million people had cast their vote by 1.30 p.m. 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.
The Electoral Affairs Commission said 31% of the city’s 4.1 million registered voters cast ballots in the first five hours, compared with just 14.5% in the same period four years ago.
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 Although the bill was eventually withdrawn, the protests grew into a wider movement against the city government with demands including more direct democracy and inquires into police brutality.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.
Police presence has so far been moderate despite earlier reports that riot police would be out in force across Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was 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.”
“I hope this kind of stability and calm is not only for today’s election, but to show that everyone does not want Hong Kong to fall into a chaotic situation again, hoping to get out of this dilemma, and let us have a fresh start,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said as she cast her ballot.
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.
wmr/ng (AFP, Reuters)