Polls closed in Hong Kong with no major disruptions on Sunday after people turned out in huge numbers to vote in district council elections seen as a test of support for anti-government protests that have persisted for over five months.
Government data released one hour before polling stations closed said nearly 2.9 million people had voted by 9:30 p.m., a turnout rate of more than 69% — a record showing that appeared to have been encouraged by the political turmoil. About 1.47 million voted in the last district elections four years ago.
First results were due after midnight.
The voter numbers showed people’s determination, said one voter named Tsz, 30, who works in the service industry.
“The high turnout rate... definitely reflects Hong Kong people’s hope for genuine universal suffrage,” he said.
Casting her ballot, the Beijing-backed Ms. Lam pledged that her government would listen “more intensively” to the views of district councils in the Chinese-ruled city.
“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,” Ms. Lam said.
The protests started over a now-withdrawn extradition Bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial but rapidly evolved into calls for full democracy, posing the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
They have at times forced the closure of government, businesses and schools as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in response to petrol bombs and rocks.
Attacks on candidates
The run-up to the election was marked by attacks on candidates, with one stabbed and wounded and another having part of his ear bitten off.
Ming Lee, 26, who works in event production, said she hoped the higher turnout would benefit the pro-democracy camp that is battling some seats that were once uncontested and dominated by pro-Beijing candidates.
“I hope this vote can counter the voice of the pro-establishment, so as to bring in more voices from the democrats,” she said. “The social problems encouraged people to vote and to focus on political issues.”
The district councils control some spending and decide issues such as recycling and public health. A record 1,104 candidates were vying for 452 seats and a record 4.1 million people have enrolled to vote.
If the pro-democracy campaigners gain control, they could secure six seats on Hong Kong’s semi-representative Legislative Council and 117 seats on the 1,200-member panel that selects its Chief Executive.
Jimmy Sham, a candidate for the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised some of the anti-government rallies, said: “We don’t know yet, at the end of the day, if the democrats can win a majority. But I hope our Hong Kong citizens can vote for the future of Hong Kong.”
Sunday was also the seventh day of a stand-off at Polytechnic University, whose campus has been surrounded by police as some protesters hid out on the grounds.