Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens queued up to vote over the weekend in what the Chinese-led city’s opposition camp says is a symbolic protest vote against strict national security laws directly imposed by Beijing.
Unofficial ballot will decide strongest pro-Democrat candidates to participate in Legislative Council elections in September as they aim to ride a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment over law to take control for the first time pro-Beijing rivals.
While the primaries are only for the opposition camp, observers watch carefully saying that participation will serve as a test for wider opposition to the law, which critics say would seriously undermine city freedoms .
“A high turnout will send a very strong signal to the international community that we Hong Kong people will never give up,” said Sunny Cheung, 24, one of the young aspiring Democrats lobbying and give original speeches.
“And that we are always with the democratic camp, we always support democracy and freedom. ”
Defying warnings from a senior Hong Kong official that voting could be contrary to national security law, young and old residents gathered in more than 250 polling stations across the city, occupied by thousands of volunteers.
Long queues formed on the streets, in housing estates and in offices transformed into polling stations, people voting online on their mobile phones after verifying their identity.
Organizers said 500,000 people voted in the city of 7.5 million late Sunday afternoon. The turnout is expected to be announced on Monday morning after two full days of voting this weekend.
Law punishes what China widely describes as secession, subversion, “terrorism” and collusion with foreign forces, up to life imprisonment, and allows mainland security agents to officially operate in Hong Kong for the first time.
Despite this tactical vote to maximize their chances, some pro-democracy activists fear that the authorities will try to prevent certain candidates from running in the September elections.
“They can arrest or disqualify any candidate they don’t like under national security law without good reason,” said Owen Chow, a young “localist” Democratic candidate.
At a time when Hong Kong authorities have banned marches and public gatherings for months due to social restrictions against coronaviruses and arrested individuals for shouting slogans and waving blank sheets of paper, the vote is deemed to be a crucial and rare window for populist expression. .
“This is a proxy referendum against the national security law,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Eddie Chu outside a metro station.