HONG KONG – The Hong Kong opposition camp said on Sunday that more than 600,000 citizens of the Chinese-controlled city voted over the weekend in the primaries it expressed as a symbolic protest vote against the strict national security laws imposed by Beijing.
The unofficial ballot will decide who the strongest pro-democracy candidates will be in the September elections to the Hong Kong Legislative Council. Second, they aim to take control of the majority of pro-Beijing rivals for the first time by riding a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment sparked by the law, which critics say severely compromised Hong Kong’s freedoms.
While the primaries only concern the opposition camp, the level of participation is considered to be a guide to popular opinion in the city of 7.5 million inhabitants, a major financial hub.
“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. “
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Defying warnings from a senior Hong Kong official that voting could be contrary to national security law, residents, young and old, gathered in more than 250 polling stations across the city, occupied by thousands of volunteers.
Long queues have formed, with people voting via their mobile phones after verifying their identities.
Organizers said 592,000 had voted online and 21,000 had voted on paper after two full days of voting, more than expected and representing about a third of the voters who supported the Democrats in the elections of the year last.
“Even under the shadow of the national security law, there were still 600,000 people leaving,” said organizer Au Nok-hin. “You can see the courage of the people of Hong Kong in this … The Hong Kong people have created another miracle. “
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Despite this tactical vote to maximize their chances, some pro-democracy activists fear that the authorities are still trying 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 banned marches and public gatherings for months due to social restrictions linked to coronaviruses and arrested individuals for shouting slogans and waving blank sheets of paper, the vote was considered as a crucial and rare window for populist expression.
“I can really feel that young people have not given up yet, even though we face a very depressing future,” said Prince Wong, 22, a candidate from the New West Territories district.
“It helps me become more determined to fight. “