Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents lined up to cast ballots over the weekend in what the territory’s opposition camp said is a symbolic protest vote against tough national security legislation imposed by Beijing.
The unofficial poll will decide the strongest pro-democracy candidates to contest Legislative Council elections in September, when they aim to ride a wave of anti-China sentiment stirred by the new legislation to seize control for the first time from pro-Beijing rivals.
While the primaries are only for the opposition camp, observers are watching closely as they say the turnout would serve as a test of broader opposition to the package of legislation.
“A high turnout will send a very strong signal to the international community, that we Hong Kongers never give up,” said Sunny Cheung (張崑陽), 24, one of a batch of aspiring young democrats out lobbying and giving stump speeches.
“And that we still stand with the democratic camp, we still support democracy and freedom,” he said.
Defying warnings from a senior Hong Kong official that the vote might fall foul of the National Security Law, residents young and old flocked to more than 250 polling stations across the territory on Saturday and yesterday, staffed by thousands of volunteers.
Long lines formed down streets, in residential estates and at businesses-turned-polling stations, with people casting an online ballot on their mobile phones after having their identities verified.
Organizers yesterday said that 500,000 people had voted by late afternoon in the territory of 7.5 million. The full turnout is expected to be announced this morning.
Despite this tactical vote to maximize their chances, some democracy advocates fear authorities will try to stop some candidates from running in the council election.
“They can arrest or disqualify any candidate they don’t like under the National Security Law without a proper reason,” said Owen Chow (鄒家成), a young “localist” candidate.
At a time when Hong Kong authorities have barred public marches and rallies for months on end amid COVID-19 restrictions, and arrested individuals for shouting slogans and holding up blank sheets of paper, the vote is being seen as a crucial and rare window for populist expression.
“It’s a proxy referendum against the National Security Law,” said pro-democracy Hong Kong Legislator Eddie Chu (朱凱迪) outside a metro station.
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