Record numbers of people have gone to the polls in Hong Kong elections that have become a barometer of public support for long-running anti-government protests.
With a few hours left until polling stations closed, more than 2.3 million people have already cast ballots, a turnout of 56%. The figure is already higher than the 1.47 million who voted in the last district elections four years ago.
The public are choosing representatives for 452 seats in the city’s 18 district councils.
The councils are largely advisory and have little power, but the election has taken on symbolic importance in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
A strong showing by the opposition would prove the public still supports the pro-democracy movement, even as the protests have become increasingly violent.
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 demonstrators.
A record 4.1 million Hong Kong people, from a population of 7.4 million, have enrolled to vote.
For the first time, riot police have been deployed to guard all polling stations in the city and almost all officers in the 31,000-strong force will be on duty, the South China Morning Post reported.
There has been a rare halt in violence in recent days, with demonstrators anxious to ensure the vote went ahead after government officials threatened to call it off in the face of unrest.
Casting her vote, the embattled Beijing-backed city leader Carrie Lam pledged to listen “more intensively” to the views of district councils and also expressed hope the relative calm of the past few days would continue.
She said: “I hope this kind of stability and calm is not only for today’s election, but to show that everyone does not want Hong Kong to fall into a chaotic situation again, hoping to get out of this dilemma, and let us have a fresh start.”
The protests snowballed from June after years of resentment over what many residents see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing has said it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula by which Hong Kong is governed.
It denies meddling in the affairs of Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub, and accuses foreign governments of stirring up trouble.
Young pro-democracy activists are running in some of the seats that were once uncontested and dominated by pro-Beijing candidates.
One pro-democracy candidate for the Wan Chai district council, Chris Chan, said the election would reflect public opinion after the upheaval of recent months.