Hong Kong votes in election seen as referendum on protests

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Earlier this month, pro-democracy protesters hurled gasoline bombs and police used tear gas and water cannons during a standoff at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus.

Voting at district council elections in Hong Kong began peacefully on Sunday morning, with no signs of a major police presence at polling booths monitored by Reuters despite almost six months of sometimes violent unrest in the Chinese-controlled city. Ballots were cast by 2.94 million people, or 71.2% of registered voters.

In the district of South Horizons, leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong cast his ballot in a race that he had planned to enter himself but was disqualified from by election officials in a move widely viewed as political.

Outgoing pro-Beijing councilor Horace Cheung did not blame his defeat on a lack of supporters. "It's a sound repudiation of the Carrie Lam administration and shows the silent majority are behind the demands of the protesters".

Some winning candidates said the result was akin to a vote of support for the protest movement, and could raise the pressure on Hong Kong's pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, amid the city's worst political crisis in decades.

"Protesters will see this astounding victory as a mandate given by the people, so they will fight harder".

Nevertheless the 32-year-old leader of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), one of Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy groups which has organised several major rallies, has emerged one of the biggest winners.

Pro-democracy protesters are hoping the results will bolster their calls for reform and political freedom. "Everyone wants to make a difference".

Mr Wong voted as soon as the polls opened at 7:30am and said that him being banned from running only strengthened his resolve.

Amid the violent protests and tensions with mainland China, Hong Kong is holding elections on Sunday for its district councils. "They now think they have the mandate of the Hong Kong people".

Campaigning was marred by acrimony, with one pro-democracy candidate having his ear bitten off in an attack, while 17 other candidates of all stripes were arrested over protest-related activities.

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While pro-democracy "double councillors" like Lam Cheuk-ting, Ted Hui and Roy Kwong kept their seats, the same could not be said for their pro-Beijing counterparts: Vincent Cheng, Wilson Or, Michael Tien, Junius Ho, Ho Kai-ming.

In a stunning rebuke to Beijing, voters in Hong Kong elected pro-democracy parties into power on Sunday.

The South China Morning Post on Friday, citing a senior police source, said riot police for the first time would guard all polling stations and nearly all officers in the 31,000 strong force would be on duty.

A pro-establishment majority has traditionally dominated the District Council, which has for the most part remained apolitical and is limited in scope to community issues such as roads, trash collection and building maintenance.

A record 1,104 candidates are vying for 452 seats and a record 4.1 million Hong Kong people have enrolled to vote for district councillors who control some spending and decide neighborhood issues, from recycling to transport and public health. Protesters have expanded their demands to include free elections for the city's leader and members of the legislature, as well as an investigation into alleged police brutality.

According to news outlet HK01, Ms Fu, an arts graduate from the University of Hong Kong, made a decision to run in the district elections precisely because of the anti-government protests. "Many of the candidates have no political experience whatsoever, it'll be a steep learning curve". "The meaning of this election is not about local politics anymore".

A strong showing by the opposition would show that the public still supports the pro-democracy movement, even as the protests have become increasingly violent. "This is a social movement, and the election is another means to express it".

In the last election, four years ago, they won just 100.

"Hopefully the government will listen and then we can actually sit down and talk with them and solve this in a peaceful way", Chan said. "This is our city".

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