Voting Underway in Hong Kong Elections

Voting Underway in Hong Kong ElectionsVoting Underway in Hong Kong Elections

Voters have headed to the polls in Hong Kong to elect the city’s Legislative Council.

The election is the first major poll since the start of pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong in 2014. It is widely viewed as the city’s most crucial poll since the city’s independence from British rule in 1997.

The results could set the stage for a fresh round of political conflict over Beijing’s control of the city, Deutsche Welle reported.

The poll will test the unity of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes a new generation of radical activists as well as more moderate mainstream parties. They are set to challenge formidable pro-Beijing rivals and some observers fear the pro-democracy vote will be split, allowing for pro-Beijing candidates to gain more seats.

At stake in the elections is the power to keep the city’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, and his government in check. The loose alliance of pro-democracy groups, or “Pan-democrat” lawmakers currently control 27 of 70 seats in the Legislative Council, and a loss of just four seats would see them lose veto power.

Casting his vote on Sunday morning, the Beijing-backed Leung assured the public that the elections were “democratic”.

“Voters will make their own choices,” he told reporters.

Radical pro-democracy activists are hoping to capitalize on a rising tide of anti-China sentiment–especially among the young–to loosen Beijing’s grip on the city.

Many fear Beijing is undermining the “one country, two systems” framework that guarantees wide autonomy for Hong Kong. Some of the young pro-democracy campaigners are demanding outright independence, while others are hoping for the chance for Hong Kong to determine its own future in a referendum.

Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have accused the more strident independence activists of illegally promoting a breakaway. Those groups were banned by the government from running in Sunday’s election, sparking outrage over political censorship.

But even if pro-democracy activists win seats, it is almost impossible for them to ever gain a majority. Only 40 of the Legislative Council’s 70 members will be directly elected by the public, the other 30 will be selected by small voting blocs from special interest groups who favor pro-Beijing candidates.