A record number of Hong Kongers cast ballots in district council elections Sunday, seizing the first opportunity to vote after months of increasingly violent protests calling for greater democracy.
More than 2.94 million people, or roughly 71.2% of the financial hub’s electorate, had voted, according to Barnabas Fung, chairman of election affairs committee. The previous highest turnout was 1.47 million in 2015. Residents faced unusually long lines at polling stations across the city as they came out to vote in the election.
The vote unfolded peacefully despite concerns it could be delayed or disrupted by violence following unrest in the leadup. More than 6,000 complaints relating to the election were received, Fung said. Logistical issues including the long lines at the polling stations topped the list, he added. Results are expected early Monday.
“There’s so many people it’s brought tears to my eyes,” said Ng Siu-hong, a councilor for the city’s Central and Western District. “It’s good for me but more importantly good for democracy.”
Some pro-democracy candidates claimed early victories. Among them are Civil Human Rights Front organizer Jimmy Sham, who was hospitalized after he was attacked by hammer-wielding thugs, and Kelvin Lam, who’s backed by activist Joshua Wong.
“The high turnout rate did benefit the pro-democracy camp,” Lam said. “The result is like a referendum of the current administration, like a confidence vote.”
Some candidates came under attack and the city was paralyzed by days of chaos in the weeks leading up to the election, with schools suspended, protesters disrupting commutes and riot police laying siege to a university. Police dispatched at least two officers clad in riot gear to each polling booth Sunday. “Recent social events make people want to voice their opinions,” said a 22-year-old voter who gave his name as Mr. Yip, as he stood in a line to vote that stretched some 500 meters down central Caine Road under the watchful eye of four riot police. “The people’s voices won’t necessarily be reflected in the governments’ real life decisions and our power is quite weak, but it is still our right to show our voices.”
The vote comes at a time of unprecedented political polarization in the city, with divisions hardening as the protests turn more violent. While most Hong Kongers support the protesters’ goals of an independent inquiry into police abuses and meaningful elections, they’re also increasingly fed up with tactics including vandalizing transport networks, seizing universities and using medieval-style weapons.