HONG KONG — Voters turned out in force Sunday for Hong Kong’s most crucial election since the handover from Britain in 1997, the outcome of which could pave the way for a fresh round of political confrontations over Beijing’s control of the city.
The vote for Legislative Council lawmakers will test the unity of Hong Kong’s prodemocracy camp, with a new generation of radical activists joining the race in the wake of 2014 prodemocracy street protests.
They were hoping to ride a wave of anti-China sentiment as they challenged formidably resourced pro-Beijing rivals for seats. Many of the newcomers back the previously unthinkable idea of independence for Hong Kong, which has added to divisions with the broader prodemocracy movement and overshadowed the election.
Last month, officials disqualified six proindependence candidates in an attempt to tamp down the debate, though other candidates with similar views made the cut.
Voters were choosing candidates to fill 35 seats in a complex system of geographic constituencies that made the race hard to predict. Results were expected Monday.
At stake is the power to keep the city’s unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, and his government in check. ‘‘Pandemocrat’’ lawmakers currently control 27 of 70 seats, compared with 43 held by lawmakers friendly to Beijing.
The democrats are fighting to keep control of at least a third of the seats, which gives them veto power to block government attempts to enact unpopular legislation, including a renewed attempt to enact Beijing’s controversial election revamp that triggered the 2014 street protests.
The risk is that the prodemocracy vote will be split, allowing pro-Beijing candidates to take more seats and removing a major hurdle for the government’s proposals, which in turn could lead to a new round of political confrontations.