Over the weekend, more than 600,000 Hong Kong citizens voted in an unofficial primary election held by the opposition camp in what was said to be a symbolic protest vote against Beijing’s recently enacted national security law.
The primaries held by the city’s pro-democracy camp would decide the strongest candidates to run in the upcoming Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in September. While the elections were only for pro-democracy candidates, the participation level is also considered to be an indicator of popular opinion in the city of 7.5 million.
“A high turnout will send a very strong signal to the international community, that we Hong Kongers never give up,” said Sunny Cheung, an aspiring democrat and lobbyist.
“And that we still stand with the democratic camp, we still support democracy and freedom.”
Since the new national security law took effect at the start of the month, some fear that the weekend’s primaries will be Hong Kong’s last “free election” based on certain provisions in the new legislation stating that democratic candidates could potentially be barred from LegCo for participation in anti-government activities.
The high turnout comes amid warnings from senior Hong Kong officials that participation in the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, which prohibits all acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
“Those who have organised, planned or participated in the primary election should be wary and avoid carelessly violating the law,” said the Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Erick Tsang, on Thursday.
“Under Article 22 of the law, it is wrong to seriously interfere, disrupt or undermine the performance of duties and functions by the central or local governments,” he said, citing pledges by the election candidates to oppose the government’s budget as well as secure a democratic majority of 35-plus members in LegoCo.
Tsang’s comments were dismissed by the organizers of the election.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, co-organizer of the event and an associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong said that “The objective of the ‘35-plus’ is to win the majority in Legco, so that we can exercise power authorised by the Basic Law to hold the Hong Kong government accountable, and that power includes vetoing the budget.”
Tai added that the primary elections would not involve calls for Hong Kong to be separated from China, nor would it be funded by external organizations. All the money used for this event was acquired by local crowdfunding, Tai stated, adding that “We don’t see any issues that could be unlawful.”
While the political climate has been tense under the new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have adopted new methods to voice their opposition to the government to avoid breaching the law. These primary elections were seen by many to be a rare opportunity for people to band together to voice their opinions in the face of the sweeping security law.
“I can really feel that young people haven’t given up yet, even though we are facing a very depressing future,” said Prince Wong, a candidate in the primary elections. “It helps me become more determined to fight.”
One of the organizers of the event, Au Nok-hin, also commended the bravery and perseverance of those who stood up despite their fears of the law.
“Even under the shadow of the national security law, there were still 600,000 people coming out,” he said.
“You can see the courage of the Hong Kong people in this … Hong Kongers have created another miracle.”
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