HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong voters thronged the polls on Sunday, many fuelled by anti-China sentiment, to vote for a new legislature, in a sign of more problems ahead for the city's new Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying.
About 53 percent of 3.4 million registered voters cast their ballots - up from 45.2 percent in the last election in 2008 - a day after Leung backed down from a plan for compulsory patriotic Chinese education in schools, a policy that drew tens of thousands of people to a 10-day protest.
Results are expected to start trickling in from 6 a.m. on Monday (2200 GMT on Sunday) until around midday.
Although the outcome will not change Leung's policy position, high voter turnout is likely to benefit the opposition pro-democracy camp and make it more difficult for him to pass measures in a fractious legislature during his five-year term.
"The national education issue antagonized many parents, so many of them came out to vote," said Lingnan University politics professor Li Pang-kwong, referring to the patriotism classes that protesters described as Communist Party propaganda aimed at indoctrinating children.
"It is also because of dissatisfaction with the performance of the Hong Kong government and emergence of a strong Hong Kong identify due to unhappiness with having to compete with new settlers and tourists from mainland China for housing, transport, hospital beds and so on," Li said.
Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule, enjoys a high degree of autonomy. But Beijing has resisted public pressure for full democracy and has maintained strong influence in political, media and academic spheres.
Since taking office in July, Leung has been fire-fighting a string of China-linked controversies including dizzyingly high property prices and overcrowding in hospitals that locals blame on new migrants and visitors from mainland China.
Sunday's polls are a test of public support for Leung and his pro-Beijing allies on the one hand, and the opposition pro-democracy camp on the other, which is seeking to maintain its one-third majority to give it veto power over policies. Voters were electing just over half the seats in the 70-member chamber.
In 2003, a demonstration by half a million people against Hong Kong's first China-backed leader, Tung Chee-hwa, led to the scrapping of a controversial anti-subversion bill and his resignation midway into his second five-year term in 2005.
Aside from anger over mass Chinese tourism, an influx of mainland mothers giving birth in the city and the national education plan, economic issues were important for voters.
"I vote for people who can help us the most," said Anthony Tsang, a deliveryman voting at a rural polling station in a sleepy offshore island. "I care about livelihood, housing costs, wages and medical care."