Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp was headed for a thumping victory in district council elections, local media reported on Monday, a vote widely seen as a referendum on the Beijing-backed government’s handling of months of violent political unrest.
Counting was still under way following record turnout in Sunday’s ballot, but early tallies suggested that candidates favouring calls for greater democracy were set to grab far more of the 452 seats contested than originally expected, media reports said.
The selection of councillors — handling community-level concerns such as bus routes and garbage collection — traditionally generates little excitement, but pro-democracy forces hope a victory would raise pressure on the government to heed demands for change.
Hong Kong has endured months of mass rallies and violent clashes pitting police against protesters agitating for direct popular elections and a probe into alleged security force brutality against demonstrators, among other demands.
“The voice of the public is loud and clear…. We hope the government can heed the protesters’ demands,” Roy Kwong, a member of Hong Kong’s top-line legislature who won a district council seat for the Democratic Party, was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
Hong Kong’s election watchdog said about 71 percent of the 4.13 million citizens registered to vote had cast their ballots, far higher than the 47 percent who voted in the previous go-round in 2015, which was a record at the time.
Results from 241 races tabulated early Monday by the South China Morning Post showed 201 pro-democracy candidates winning their races as opposed to just 28 pro-Beijing establishment candidates and 12 independents.
District councils have long been dominated by the pro-Beijing establishment and voters seeking change expressed hope that weakening that grip would send a message to China and to Hong Kong’s unpopular Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam.
The political unrest kicked into high gear with giant rallies in June against a bill backed by Lam that would allow extraditions to China’s opaque justice system.
The bill was eventually declared “dead” as public pressure grew, but the anger it unleashed sparked wider calls for democracy.