An unusually high number of voters cast their ballots in Hong Kong’s district council elections on Sunday, the South China Morning Post reported. This is the first election since anti-government protests started in June.

Over 69% of the registered electorate had voted by the evening when polls closed. The number of people who voted was around 2.7 million, the daily said. This is a record turnout, far surpassing the 47% who voted in the 2016 Legislative Council polls.

Polling began at 7.30 am local time [5 am Indian Standard Time], and within four hours, over one million people had already voted. A record 4.1 million people have registered to vote – more than half the population of 7.4 million. In 2015, only 3.1 million people had registered to vote.

District council elections were never considered very important. But this time it is being looked at as a litmus test for the current government. Currently, pro-Beijing parties hold the majority of these seats.

The first results should start coming in before the midnight. The results of the election of 452 district councillors, who are responsible for regular neighbourhood affairs, may exert more pressure on the country’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam to look for ways to resolve the impasse, South China Morning Post reported.

The protestors hope they will be able to increase their representation that traditionally has had some influence in selecting Hong Kong’s chief executive. Pro-Beijing candidates, on the other hand, are appealing to voters to voice their frustration over the protests. With police personnel keeping an eye on over 600 polling stations, the city has been calm for the last four days.

Reports of attacks on candidates of the local elections had cropped up in recent weeks. Jimmy Sham, who is running on behalf of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised some of the anti-government protests, was beaten up by men with hammers in October. “We can see Hongkongers are longing for a chance to express their stand,” he told Reuters. “We don’t know yet, at the end of the day, if the democrats can win a majority. But I hope our Hong Kong citizens can vote for the future of Hong Kong.”

Meanwhile, Lam voted in front of cameras and vowed that her administration would listen “more intensively” to the opinions of the district councils. “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,” she said.

The protests

The Hong Kong protests had initially been organised to oppose an extradition bill that proposed to allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. However, they soon evolved into a pro-democracy backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.

On October 23, the Hong Kong administration, led by Lam, formally withdrew the extradition bill. However, the administration accepted just one of the pro-democracy protestors’ demands. The protestors have demanded that Lam step down from her post, an inquiry into the alleged police brutality during the protests, retraction of the word “riots” to describe the demonstrations, amnesty for all those arrested for protesting, and universal suffrage.

The demonstrations have, in the past, paralysed the city and affected the retail and tourism sectors, along with widespread disruptions across the financial centre and no end in sight to the violence and vandalism.