Polls close in Hong Kong's key vote amid anti-China feeling

The BBC's Juliana Liu says China's relationship with Hong Kong is very much the focus of the elections

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Hong Kong voters have been choosing a new legislature, with pro-democracy candidates expected to benefit from weeks of anti-China protests.

The poll came a day after the government scrapped plans for mandatory Chinese patriotism lessons in schools.

For the first time, 40 of the 70 seats on the governing legislative council were directly elected.

The results of the poll - which are not expected until Monday - could keep on track plans for universal suffrage.

This could come as early as 2017.

But for the promised reform to be implemented, it needs the support of the legislative council.

Analysis

At a polling station in the Central business district, a steady stream of voters young and old filled out paper ballots in the privacy of booths fashioned from cardboard.

A higher turnout is likely to bode well for the pro-democratic candidates vying for the 70 seats.

Their fortunes have been boosted by rising dissatisfaction with the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong, as well as the lack of democratic reforms in China itself.

If the pro-democratic candidates capture more than a third of seats in the next legislative council, it would send a strong message to Beijing that Hong Kong people fully support the introduction of universal suffrage, which may happen as early as 2017.

Voter turnout among the 3.5 million electorate was more than 50%, higher than during the previous legislative election in 2008, reports say.

The election campaign has been dominated by issues such as employment, corruption and the growing number of visitors from mainland China.

Hong Kong was handed to China by Britain in 1997, and has a semi-autonomous status.

The territory enjoys greater political freedom than mainland China, including a free press and the right to peaceful assembly.

Under the current laws, 30 of the 70 seats in the assembly are being chosen by small group of electors selected along economic and professional lines.

But the pro-democracy candidates running for office are expected to benefit from the growing anger against mainland China and the lack of political reform there, says the BBC's Hong Kong correspondent Juliana Liu.

A strong showing by the pro-democracy forces this time round could make the transition to universal suffrage more likely in the future, she adds.

"Before it didn't matter so much who got in. But this time, I thought it was important to vote to stop people and parties I didn't want from getting into the legislature," one voter was quoted as saying by Reuters.

But another voter, Anthony Tsang, said he was voting for "people who can help us the most".

"I care about livelihood, housing costs, wages and medical care," he said.

Classes U-turn

For the past week, thousands of demonstrators have camped out around Hong Kong's government headquarters, protesting against the plan for mandatory patriotism lessons.

They said the lessons were Communist Party propaganda and whitewashed events such as the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square and the famine under Mao Zedong.

But the government said the goal was to foster a sense of national belonging.

The proposed curriculum, which consisted of general civics education as well as more controversial lessons on appreciating mainland China, was due to be introduced in primary schools in September and secondary schools in 2013.

On Saturday, Hong Kong's chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said the classes would be optional for schools.

Mr Leung, who was sworn in as Hong Kong's chief executive in July, cancelled his trip to the Apec regional summit this weekend because of the furore.

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