November 21, 2015 / 9:06 PM / 4 years ago

Hong Kong votes year after protests in test of appetite for democracy

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong votes in district level elections on Sunday that will mark the first real test of public sentiment since pro-democracy protests crippled parts of the Chinese-controlled city last year.

A pro-democracy protester (R) carrying a Taiwan flag demonstrates in front of pro-China supporters waving a Chinese national flag outside Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

More than 900 candidates are competing for 431 seats in 18 district councils, where pro-Beijing parties currently hold a majority, at a time when people are divided over the pace of political reform.

The results, due late on Sunday, will provide insight into how a Legislative Council election due next year and a controversial leadership poll in 2017 could pan out.

The 79-day demonstrations last year, when activists streamed on to highways to demand full democracy for the former British colony, became the biggest political challenge to Beijing’s Communist Party leaders in years.

The protests failed to persuade China to allow a fully democratic vote in 2017. Beijing says city voters have to chose from a list of candidates it has approved.

But they triggered what many in the financial center see as a political awakening, which has included a lively debate over how much control China’s central government should have.

“It feels like once the Umbrella Movement was over, we didn’t know which way to go from there,” said Steve Ng, a former chef who is running in the district council elections, referring to the democracy protests. “I wanted to see if I had the ability to continue to push the democratic movement.”

Candidates have been lobbying hard across Hong Kong, although a wider choice of parties after last year’s protests could make it harder for voters to decide at the polling booths.

The election will have a higher turnout than the 41.5 per cent witnessed in 2011, according to a poll by the University of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that gives it substantial autonomy and freedoms, with universal suffrage promised as an “ultimate goal”.

District councillors command little power, acting more in an advisory role in which they can push forward policies for the government to consider.

Reporting by By Diana Chan and Teenie Ho; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie

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