Hong Kong protesters defy threats to security law in primary elections

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Joyce Leung, 35, mother of two young children, said she had decided to vote for candidates who regularly attended the protests even if they risked being excluded from the competition.

“I think they will be permanently disqualified,” she said Sunday, after voting at a polling station on a sidewalk on Hong Kong Island surrounded by apartment buildings, office towers and of cafes. “But I still wanted to show them that a lot of people support them.”

Hong Kong’s electoral system has never been equal. Britain had little interest in democracy when it ruled the city, and China quickly undermined the commitment that the entire legislature would be elected, maintaining the British colonial system of limited voting.

Barely half of the 70 seats in the Legislative Assembly represent geographic ridings directly elected by voters. The other half are so-called functional constituencies, most chosen by the vote of the companies and more likely to go to the candidates of the establishment. This tilted system has historically discouraged some Hong Kong residents from participating.

But in November, after months of ferocious and at times violent anti-government protests, voters turned out in large numbers for an election of Hong Kong district councilors, a low-level office that previously attracted little attention. More than seven out of 10 eligible voters cast their ballots, up from a previous record of 47% – and won a resounding victory for the pro-democracy camp, which won 86% of the seats.

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