If there was no sign anywhere in Hong Kong on Sunday of masked protesters in black T-shirts, it was because the word went out to all to set November 24 aside for voting in the district council elections.
Online platforms popular among protesters, including the Telegram messaging app and online forum LIHKG, shared messages telling everyone eligible to vote not to use their smartphones, dress in black, or wear masks inside polling stations to make sure their votes are valid.
Regular protester Kevin, 21, a student at the University of Hong Kong, cast his ballot and encouraged others to vote against pro-government candidates.
“The only winning result, for me, will be when the government responds to our five demands,” he said, referring to protesters’ calls for universal suffrage and an inquiry into alleged police brutality, among others.
“If we have more votes in the pro-democracy camp, we’ll have more legitimacy to fight on,” he said.
After more than five months of unrest, the past two weeks have seen clashes between police and students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Polytechnic University.
Most of about 1,000 masked radicals and their supporters who occupied PolyU and engaged in intense clashes with police a week ago are no longer on the campus, but the last few are still holding out, with police waiting for them to emerge.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said last month that more than a third of those arrested at the time were under 18 years old, meaning they were not eligible to vote. As of last Monday, nearly 4,500 people were arrested in connection with the protests.
A 58-year-old retired logistics worker, identifying herself only as Chan, said she has attended nearly every weekend protest since early June but on Sunday, she was a volunteer for a pro-democracy candidate.
“The government has dismissed the legitimacy of protests, but if we are able to show them that we have legitimacy through votes, they cannot just ignore us,” she said.
She was handing out leaflets for candidate Lucifer Siu Tak-Kin of Mong Kok North constituency, who is challenging incumbent Wong Shu-ming from the pro-establishment camp.
Daniel Leung, 29, who works in marketing and voted in Tuen Mun, did not think that everyone who supported the protests ought to vote for pan-democrat candidates.
“We have to respect those who are pro-protest but want to cast a blank vote because they are not happy with what the pan-democrats have been doing over recent years,” he said. Respecting one’s individual choice is the essence of democracy.”
Online platforms where protesters have been discussing their action plans were largely silent on their next moves, with no calls to carry out strikes or mass protests.
A freelance tour guide who only gave his surname, Chan, said he sensed exhaustion among protesters.
“No one knows what’s next yet. Over the past few days, most protesters have been focusing on asking people to vote,” he said.
Chan, who said he was a frequent protester and helped to gather donations and supplies for protests, felt the recent major clashes at Chinese University and Polytechnic University had affected many frontline protesters.
“They are still digesting the intense happenings and need time to figure out their next step, as many are physically tired,” he said.
But he was confident that the protests would not die down, even if it appeared that the protesters had no concrete plans.
He said: “The collection of donations and materials has not stopped, the propaganda design teams have also been actively brainstorming. I believe things will be clearer after we know the election results.”
For some pro-government voters living in areas where there have been regular protests, all they want is for the disruption to end.
At a polling station in Yau Ma Tei, accountant Ho, 40, said she wanted her life to return to normal.
“The MTR is still closing early, and my family has been staying at home a lot more on weekends,” she said. “I hope the protests die down soon and Hong Kong’s image can be saved internationally.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong elections: pro-democracy camp wins 17 out of 18 districts while city leader says she will reflect on the result
- As it happened: pro-Beijing camp licks wounds after hammering in Hong Kong district council elections