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Hong Kong has held local polls widely seen as a referendum on the popularity of top leadership after months of civil unrest. District councils are the only leadership bodies in Hong Kong directly elected by the people.
Pro-democracy candidates took an early lead after a record number of voters turned out for Hong Kong's district council elections on Sunday following six months of anti-government protests.
Usually an unremarkable local election, this year a record 4.1 million Hong Kongers had registered to vote. The city's electoral commission showed that more than 2.94 million people, or 70% of the registered total, had cast their votes. In 2015, 47% of eligible voters — 1.47 million people — cast a ballot.
This year's elections have been 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.
Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, who has been covering the polls for DW, sent a video via Twitter of doors being closed at a polling station as voting ended.
Controversial extradition bill
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 a proposed law that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to places including mainland 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 Although the bill was eventually withdrawn, the protests grew into a wider movement against the city government with demands including more direct democracy and an independent inquiry into police brutality.
The mass demonstrations have at times forced the closure of government, businesses and schools in the city's worst political crisis in decades.
Should pro-democracy candidates do well on Sunday, it would indicate that Hong Kongers remain firmly behind the protest movement.
Hong Kong's 'real democratic exercise'
More than 1,000 candidates contested 452 seats in 18 districts, in a poll that is the closest voters in the Chinese special administrative region can get to directly electing representatives.
Police presence was moderate despite earlier reports that riot police would be out in force across Hong Kong.
Sunday was the seventh day of a standoff at the Polytechnic University, which turned into a battleground between the protesters and police. While the campus is still surrounded by police, some protesters hid out on the sprawling grounds.
"The district council election is almost like a referendum on recent months of social activity," said a protester clad in a red university tracksuit, his face covered by a red mask, unable to escape without being caught. "My personal liberty to vote has been violated," he added.
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.
The state-run Chinese daily Global Times urged Hong Kongers to "vote to end violence." On Twitter, it denounced the recent protests as an "uncivilized black terror" and that voters had a choice between it and "a city redeeming its past glory."
sri, wmr/ng (AFP, Reuters)