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Hong Kongers vote in record numbers

PEOPLE queue to cast their vote during the district council elections in South Horizons in  Hong Kong yesterday. (AFP)

PEOPLE queue to cast their vote during the district council elections in South Horizons in Hong Kong yesterday. (AFP)

HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong’s voters turned out in record numbers yesterday for local council elections that the city’s pro-democracy movement hopes will add pressure on the Beijing-backed government to heed their demands after months of violent protest.

Lengthy queues snaked out of polling stations across the territory in the election for 18 district councils, where high turnout is expected to benefit democratic forces.

The Electoral Affairs Commission said a record 47.26 percent of the 4.13 million citizens registered to vote had cast their ballots by late yesterday afternoon.

It was already the highest turnout in Hong Kong’s history of district council elections post handover, with several hours of voting still to go.

The selection of 452 councilors – handling community-level concerns such as bus routes and garbage collection – traditionally generates little excitement, but has taken on new significance following months of political unrest.

Hong Kong has been buffeted by months of mass rallies and violent clashes pitting police against protesters who are agitating for direct popular elections of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s government, as well as a probe into alleged police brutality.

District councils have long been dominated by the pro-Beijing establishment, and voters seeking change hope that weakening that grip will give their movement fresh momentum.

“Even though one ballot can only help a little, I still hope it can bring change to society and support street protests in some way,” 19-year-old student Michael Ng, voting for the first time, said.

The vote is the closest Hong Kongers get to direct representation.

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