Over 600,000 Hongkongers voted over the weekend in primaries as a symbolic protest vote against tough national security laws imposed by Beijing.
The unofficial poll will decide the strongest pro-democracy candidates to contest elections in September for the Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. They aim to seize majority control for the first time from pro-Beijing rivals.
While the primaries are only for the opposition camp, the level of participation is seen as a guide to popular opinion in the city of 7.5 million people.
The voters turned out despite one senior Chinese official suggesting last week that participation in the primary could breach the new security law.
“Those who have organised, planned or participated in the primary election should be wary and avoid carelessly violating the law,” Erick Tsang, the Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs, told the Sing Tao Daily newspaper.
Thousands defied warnings from senior Hong Kong officials and to flocked to over 250 polling stations across the city, manned by thousands of volunteers.
Long queues formed, with people voting via their mobile phones after having their identities verified.
Organisers said 592,000 people had voted online, and 21,000 had cast paper ballots at the end of two full days of polling.
Despite this tactical vote to maximise their chances, some pro-democracy activists fear authorities may yet try to stop some candidates from running in September’s election.
National Security Law:
The law came into force on 30th June, night 11pm with four categories of offences – secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security.
The punishment varies between a life to a three year imprisonment.
‘Anti-nationals’ can be extradited to mainland China from Hong Kong. The law also subverts the Hong Kong judiciary as only Beijing appointed judges can hear such matters.
The law is applicable to entire China including Hong Kong. Even foreign nationals could face action under this law if they are found to be anti-Beijing.