The District Council election on Sunday will gauge support for democratic change in the former British colony four months after half a million people took to the streets to protest against a planned subversion law.

Five hours after polling stations opened at 7:30am, about 324,481 people, or 13.42% of the 2.97 million eligible voters, had cast their ballots, according to officials. Polls close at 2230 (1430 GMT).

The race for votes between the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) and pro-democracy groups will also provide an early indication of voting in the Legislative Council (Legco) polls next September.

Big gains by pro-democracy forces will be seen as a popular mandate to push for greater voting rights in the southern Chinese city.

Major election battle

That could set the stage for a major election battle next
year for control of Hong Kong's top lawmaking body, the
Legislative Council.

"It's a very low-level election. These people (the democracy camp) can do nothing to promote democracy"

Fanny Cheung,
bank employee

"I'll be voting for the Democrats candidate. I'm really fed up with how the main pro-China party has been selling out Hong Kong people over the anti-subversion law," said Charles Lo, a voter.

More than 800 candidates are fighting for 400 seats with the first results likely to trickle in early on Monday morning. A final tally is expected around midday.

DAB is fielding 206 candidates while the democracy camp has 120 in the fray. Candidates in 74 of the constituencies have already been elected unopposed, with DAB securing 16 of those seats, the Democratic Party three and many others going to independent candidates.

Chinese leaders, who say they are concerned about the stability of Hong Kong, have dispatched a squad of officials to monitor Sunday's poll. They will be watching closely for any signs that pro-democracy sentiment is on the rise.

Voter apathy

But there was a lot of apathy. Bank employee Fanny Cheung, who joined the huge march on 1 July, says she will probably sleep in on Sunday.

"It's a very low-level election," she said. "These people [the democracy camp] can do nothing to promote democracy. If I go at all, I will choose whoever it is who has been running the district, I think he has done an OK job."

Attitudes such as this are likely to keep democracy candidates from making huge inroads, political analysts claim.