Hong Kong residents have turned out in unprecedented numbers for local elections that many in the city are treating as a proxy referendum on months of anti-government protests. They are now demanding direct elections for the city's next chief executive and an independent inquiry into police tactics used to suppress demonstrations.
As released by the election's official website, the turnout rate for the first ten hours of the polling reached 56.42 percent of the registered total - almost twice that in the same period in the last election in 2015.
Alex cast his vote early in the morning in South Horizons, an upper-middle-class district, the same district that Joshua Wong - one of the most visible pro-democratic leaders and the only candidate to have been banned from running in this election - hails from.
An worldwide student from Hong Kong, poses in front of the Ewha Womans University wall covered with posters and sticky notes expressing support for Hong Kong protests. They have advisory functions and control over how some of the city's finances are disbursed locally, but possess no lawmaking abilities.
Another voter in Wan Chai, which is now represented by pro-Beijing politicians, flew back to Hong Kong from Britain, where he has lived for the past decade, to participate.
On Saturday, the city's officials warned the vote could be postponed after some candidates came under attack and the city was paralyzed as protesters blocked roads and riot cops laid siege to a university.
"They do not listen to our opinions actually".
China, however, has threatened to "take strong opposing measures", warning the U.S. will "bear all the consequences" for this "serious violation of global law. I don't believe that Beijing will not respond to the Hong Kong people's voice", Alex Wong, a black-clad and masked student, said during a peaceful march Saturday.
"It is time for us to calm down and tell the government in a civilized way what we want to do", he said.
A win would bolster the democrats' influence and give them 117 seats in the panel that elects the city's leader, but Beijing isn't likely to soften its stance or make any concessions to the protesters, he said.
Ho said that he had already planned to run for the District Council seat before the protests, sparked by a controversial extradition bill, began in June.
Oh, who has partaken in activities supporting the Hong Kong protests both at the school and outside it since September, said nearly every pro-Hong Kong poster that he and his group have put up has been damaged.
"Our loss is not because of our work in the local districts, it's because of the political sentiment", said Horace Cheung, who noted he received 500 more votes this year than four years ago, but still lost.
"Look we have to stand with Hong Kong, but I'm also standing with President Xi".
However, acts of intimidation have overshadowed the elections.
The well-funded establishment camp has typically dominated these elections, with their strong links to the business community and perceptions that they can get more done. One such group of men, when approached by this NPR reporter, refused to answer questions, walking in circles before disappearing into a metro station.
After polls closed at 10:30 p.m., the Electoral Affairs Commission did not immediately provide the final turnout rate.
At a nearby polling station in Tsim Sha Tsui, voter Estelle Chan said that while she had always dutifully cast her ballot in past elections, this year held a much greater significance and that friends across social media and messaging apps had been urging each other to come out and vote. She vowed to vote in the next elections, regardless of how the protests end.
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