Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents defied concerns about social-distancing and a new security law to vote in two-day primaries held by pro-democracy opposition parties.
More than 318,100 people voted electronically and at least 10,000 had used paper ballots as of 1 pm on Sunday, Andrew Chiu, convenor of organiser Power for Democracy, said at a press conference in the city. The opposition groups were hoping to attract at least 170,000 voters to the unofficial primaries to select district candidates for September’s Legislative Council election.
“I heard a lot of citizens were concerned about coming out to vote after the National Security Law legislation, but I think more people came out after the smooth operation of the first day,” Au Nok-hin said at the briefing. “We are optimistically marching towards a total of 500,000 people, which could represent 10% of total registered voters.” Voting on July 11 at the 250 stations across the city went relatively smoothly, despite some minor scuffles, Radio Television Hong Kong quoted organiser Au as saying.
Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang suggested that participation in the primary could run afoul of the law. If convicted by the courts, violators would be barred from seeking or holding public office for an unspecified period. Another top Hong Kong official last month advocated for the invalidation of candidates who expressed opposition toward the legislation, which is raising questions about the city’s autonomy from China.
Tsang said that planning and participating in primaries could violate the law’s articles of secession, subversion and collusion, as well as its Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. Though democrats refuted the government’s remarks and continued canvassing support for the primary, they also worried that authorities’ suggestions of illegality — and a warning that district council offices shouldn’t be used as primary polling stations — would dampen voter turnout over the weekend.
“Surely that’s our worry, whether the new national security law will deter people from coming out to participate in a legally organised and lawful activity,” legal scholar and organiser Benny Tai said. He argued that the primary was not an act of “secession” or “collusion” because it didn’t have an agenda to split the country and wasn’t sourcing funds externally.
Police searched the offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute and seized its computers, Au said earlier. They had a warrant and didn’t make any arrests, he said. The institute is a widely cited pollster helping the pro-democracy movement with the primaries, which a top government official has said may violate Beijing’s new national security law for the city.
Voting for the primaries was delayed until noon as a result of the raid, the organisers said. Police were seen visiting some of the polling stations. A police spokeswoman said officers from the cyber security crime bureau conducted the search after receiving complaints from members of the public about leaked information, including that of police officers.
The opposition hopes to ride a decisive victory in last November’s district council elections to secure a majority in the legislature that would give it the power to block Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s agenda — and even theoretically force her to resign by rejecting her budget proposals. However, the new security law has compounded risks that the Beijing-backed government will disqualify pro-democracy candidates to keep them from winning enough seats.