Voters line up to cast their ballots in Hong Kong's District Council election on Sunday. Photo: RTHK

A historically high voter turnout in the District Council elections on Sunday would probably help ease social tensions and restore public order, politicians speculated on Sunday.

Henry Tang Ying-nien. Photo: RTHK

The 2019 District Council elections had produced a strong voter turnout by the middle of the election day on Sunday, showing that Hong Kong people supported democracy and treasured their voting rights, Henry Tang Ying-yen, a former Chief Secretary and current standing member of The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said during his visit to a polling station.

Tang said he hoped the election would help heal the rift between people with opposing views, end the ongoing violence and restore public order.

Results from 235 races tabulated early on Monday morning by the South China Morning Post showed 196 pro-democracy candidates winning their races as opposed to 27 pro-Beijing establishment candidates and 12 independents, AFP reported.

Carrie Lam casts her vote. Photo: RTHK

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday urged the public to vote in the elections. She said an election held peacefully and orderly would show a positive effect on helping stabilize society.

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.

“I hope this ballot can increase our voice in the council,” said 19-year-old student Michael Ng, voting for the first time in his life.

“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.”

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

By contrast, the legislature is elected by a mix of popular vote and industry groups stacked with China loyalists, which ensures Beijing’s control of the city of around 7.3 million.

“Today’s vote is for registered voters to select their preferred candidates to represent their district’s interests in the 18 District Councils,” she said. “I’m sure each registered voter will take into account all factors in deciding their choices.”

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said elections are a key feature of genuine democracies, adding that the police had sent riot officers to some polls to ensure voters could cast their ballots in peace.

This year’s local elections are viewed as a de facto referendum on government policy and the ongoing pro-democracy protests.

On Sunday morning, long queues had formed at polling stations in several districts. Some voters said they had waited for more than one-and-a-half hour but had yet to vote. In the afternoon, the wait time had dropped to about 45 minutes.

In many polling stations, voters waited at least 45 minutes to cast their ballot. Photo: RTHK

Polling stations opened at 7:30am and are scheduled to close at 10:30pm. More than 30,000 civil servants from various departments staffed the polling stations.

A total of 4.12 million registered voters will choose the 452 councilors across the city. More than 400,000 new voters will be eligible this time around. Also, all seats are being challenged this year, in contrast to the 2015 election when 68 seats went uncontested.

By 4:30pm on Sunday, more than 2.15 million people, or 52.14% of all registered voters, had turned out to vote. In 2015, a total of 854,437 people, or 27.37% of all register voters, had cast their votes as of 4:30pm.

By 1:30pm Sunday, the total number of votes had reached 1.52 million, or 36.89% of all registered voters, exceeding the 1.46 million votes cast in the entire 2015 election.

In previous elections, high voter turnout worked in favor of the non-establishment camp, said Ken Yau Tze-ken, Assistant Director (Experiential Learning), Faculty of Social Sciences, the University of Hong Kong.

Ken Yau Photo: RTHK

Yau pointed out that 38% of the newly-registered 390,000 voters were aged between 18 and 35, which should have a strong effect on the election. However, he added that the non-establishment camp could not just rely on these new voters; they would also have to strengthen support from long-term supporters.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media urged Hong Kongers to “vote to end violence” Sunday. State media urged voters to give support to pro-establishment forces to “end social chaos,” but the big turnout is widely expected to benefit democratic forces.

In a tweet, the nationalistic Global Times asked voters: “What would you choose? A peaceful and prosperous city or a violent uncivilized one?”

“The choice is yours,” the tabloid posted, along with pictures of long polling queues and the text: “Cast vote to end violence”.

An editorial in the Beijing News said it was an opportunity for voters to “end the social chaos and violence in Hong Kong with their own hands, and restore the social order.”

One interviewee told state broadcaster CGTN that turnout was high because voters wanted to end the unrest.

Justice Barnabas Fung, chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, said that the commission has received 744 complaints as at Sunday noon, with the majority concerning electoral adverts.

Read: Hong Kong braces for crucial Sunday election

Read: Security beefed up for Sunday’s HK elections

– Additional reporting AFP

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