Hong Kong votes in election seen as referendum on protests

Ken Moritsugu
Associated Press

Hong Kong – Long lines formed outside Hong Kong polling stations Sunday in elections that have become a barometer of public support for anti-government protests now in their sixth month.

The voting for 452 seats in the city’s 18 district councils has taken on symbolic importance in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. 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.

People line up to vote outside of a polling place in Hong Kong, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019.

The ruling camp in Hong Kong and the national government in Beijing hope that the unrest and disruption to daily life will turn voters against the movement.

Democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was barred from running in the election, voted soon after polls opened at 7:30 a.m. Results are expected after midnight.

“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,” he told reporters.

City leader Carrie Lam said after voting that organizing the election was extremely challenging because of the unrest.

“But I’m pleased to say that … we should have a relatively peaceful and calm environment to conduct these elections successfully,” she said.

The district councils advocate for community interests and are given a small budget for local projects. Successful candidates will serve a four-year term beginning Jan. 1.

There has been a rare break in the violence in recent days as protesters, anxious to validate their cause through the ballot box, hit the pause button to ensure the polls won’t be postponed.

Government officials had earlier warned that the election could be called off if the violence did not subside.

“We need to show the world that our cause is legitimate. I don’t believe that Beijing will not respond to the Hong Kong people’s voice,” a black-clad and masked student Alex Wong said during a peaceful march Saturday.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said that a strong police presence at polling stations will ensure that the vote proceeds smoothly.

Online messages from protest support groups have advised people not to wear black or face masks during voting in case they are targeted by police.

Associated Press video journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report.