Hong Kong: Voters on Sunday flocked to polling booths in large numbers for the district council elections, in which record participation is expected after five months of protests.
Long queues were witnessed at polling stations before the voting officially began at 7.30 am. Two hours later, turnout reached 10.4 per cent, three times the turnout (3.85 per cent), recorded in the 2015 local elections, Efe news reported.
There are 4.1 million people (in a city of about 7.5 million residents) eligible to vote in an election to choose 452 councillors out of 1,090 contesting candidates from the 18 districts of Hong Kong.
The number of registered voters has increased by one million compared to the 2015 elections; 392,600 of them were added in the last year, coinciding with the protests, and 58 per cent of them are aged between 18-20.
Although the position of councillor has little political relevance, Sunday’s elections are seen as a barometer to gauge the political leanings of the city in the wake of the pro-democracy movement that has led to prolonged protests on the streets in recent months, as well as determine the support enjoyed by the pro-mainland Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Alex, 24, who was on his way to vote for a pro-democracy candidate and who has actively participated in the protests that started in June, told EFE that Hongkongers still had the freedom to choose and these elections would be an expression of their preferences.
Alex cast his vote early in the morning in South Horizons, an upper-middle-class district, the same district that Joshua Wong — one of the most visible pro-democratic leaders and the only candidate to have been banned from running in this election — hails from.
“Even if they censor me out from the ballot, lock me out in prison, it will just encourage me to continue to fight for the future with even stronger determination,” Wong told the media before voting.
Chief Executive Lam was also among those to cast her vote early morning in the affluent Middle Levels district, where she hoped that the elections would serve to restore normalcy in the city, especially given that the most recent protests were particularly violent.
Lam said that in recent days, they had witnessed the city recovering its peace and that many citizens had appreciated it, alluding to the relative calm in Hong Kong over the last five days to ensure the elections were not cancelled.
Most people came to vote early following rumours spread on social media warning that if any altercations took place, voting would be suspended at 10.30 am and only the votes already polled until that moment would be counted.