Pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong took a significant early lead in district council elections after residents turned out in record numbers on Sunday to vote following six months of anti-government protests.
The elections are seen as a test of support for the city’s pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, who has faced intense pressure during months of unrest in the Chinese-ruled city.
Initial results from the voting, which ended with no major disruptions, began to trickle in after midnight and signalled major gains for the pro-democracy camp.
As of about 4:00 a.m. (2000 GMT), pro-democracy candidates had won at least 207 seats, compared to about 18 seats for the pro-establishment camp, according to local media estimates. A record 1,104 candidates were vying for 452 seats.
Electoral affairs chief Barnabus Fung said at least 2.94 million people voted, a record turnout of more than 71% that appeared to have been spurred by the turmoil. About 1.47 million voted in the last district elections four years ago.
“The performance of the pro-democracy camp will send a signal to Beijing,” said Andrew Li, a 22-year-old student who supported a pro-democracy candidate. “By ignoring people’s demands, it wakes up all Hong Kong people to come out and vote.”
Hong Kong’s district councils control some spending and decide issues such as recycling and public health.
If the pro-democracy camp gains control, it could get six seats on Hong Kong’s semi-representative Legislative Council and 117 seats on the 1,200-member panel that selects the city’s chief executive.
Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are also responding to perceived police brutality.
China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula for the autonomy of Hong Kong. Police say they have shown restraint in the face of potentially deadly attacks.
Jimmy Sham, a candidate for the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised some of the anti-government rallies, won his electoral contest and said the turnout should be a sign to the government that it should listen to their voices.