More than 234,000 Hongkongers voted on the first day of a weekend primary the opposition camp is holding to select candidates for the upcoming Legislative Council elections, according to the organiser, with long lines forming across the city.
The number, which represents 5.3 per cent of registered voters, far exceeded the overall target of 170,000 people that Power for Democracy hoped would turn out across both Saturday and Sunday.
The success came despite polls opening three hours late after a public opinion outfit tabulating the ballots had their office raided by police late on Friday, forcing them to reset software as a precaution.
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There were also concerns residents might be scared off by a rise in the number of coronavirus infections, which a top health official warned was at its most severe point since the pandemic began in January.
Meeting the press before polls closed at 9pm, former lawmaker Au Nok-hin, who coordinated the primary, said turnout was boosted by attempts by the government to suppress the event.
“The turnout reflected Hongkongers’ deep concern about deteriorating freedoms in the city, especially after officials claimed the primaries could breach the law,” Au said.
“We are creating history, as we are not sure if it will be the last time Hong Kong can hold primary elections in view of the [government’s] tightening grip.”
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, another key organiser and a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong, wrote on his Facebook: “If the hourly voting rates [on Sunday] are similar, it’s highly likely that the turnout will exceed 500,000!”
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the high turnout reflected a large number of voters had not been deterred by the authorities’ “scare tactics” and the relatively complicated voting mechanisms set up by the civic group.
“The mandate of the voters is expected to bolster morale of the bloc in the upcoming elections, but it might also prompt the regime to further tighten its grip on them,” Choy said.
Hong Kong’s opposition camp is holding the primary to whittle down the number of candidates running for September’s Legco elections from 52 lists to give them the best chance of winning a simple majority in the 70-seat legislature.
It is feared running too many opposition candidates plays into the hands of pro-establishment rivals by splitting the vote.
Organisers said the first day went smoothly, despite Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai earlier warning the voting could breach the new national security law and the local elections ordinance.
Authorities and landlords had also warned against using district councillor’s offices and shops sympathetic to the opposition as polling stations.
Yet long queues formed at some of the 250 or so polling stations across the city, including hundreds of people lining up outside multiple booths in Tai Po.
Of 10 people the Post spoke to queuing outside various polling stations, seven said they would vote for localist candidates, or those believing that Hong Kong should foster its unique characteristics to maintain its identity apart from mainland China.
Among them was Ben Chan, 25, who was unemployed, and said he was backing a localist despite the risk of the candidate being disqualified before September under the new national security law. “It’s to show my stance and make the international community care more about it,” Chan said.
Retiree Ralph Chun, 65, also voted for a localist candidate. “The only thing I can do is to vote. Localists are better. They can bring in more new energy,” Chun said.
Billy Chan, 40 and a loyal supporter of the pan-democrats, said he was driven to vote by the flight of opposition activists, including ousted lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung, from Hong Kong following the introduction of the security law, which took effect on June 30.
It targets secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. “I hope more candidates from the camp can win seats through tactical voting,” Chan said.
In Kowloon West, the most competitive geographical constituencies among the five, nine candidates are competing in the primary. The opposition camp aims to win four of the six seats up for grabs there in September. Three of the nine belong to traditional pan-democratic parties and four describe themselves as localists.
Voting in the primary, which also covers “super seats” and the health services sector of functional constituencies, took place in the stations set up across the city, mainly in district councillors’ offices, shops that supported anti-government protesters and on a privately owned antique bus parked in West Kowloon Station bus terminus.
Hong Kong national security law official English version:
Despite earlier warnings, the police and authorities did not disrupt the proceedings. A female volunteer helping at a polling station in Lok Fu reported that she was assaulted by a handful of pro-government supporters at 5pm, according to Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho.
Addressing privacy concerns, Tai said organisers would delete all voter information immediately after the results were announced on Monday.
The polls opened at Saturday noon after the police raided the office of the voting system designer, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), over an alleged data leak concerning residents and officers, that may be linked to criminal hacking.
The institute’s deputy chief executive officer Chung Kim-wah told the Post on Saturday night that three of his colleagues gave statements and no arrests were made so far.
He quoted officers from the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau as saying the case involved “access to a computer with dishonest or criminal intent” but they were not informed of further details.
The voting, which requires proof of address and an identity card, will run 9am to 9pm on Sunday.
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More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong elections: traditional opposition parties, localists face off as more than 610,000 residents cast primary ballots
- Hong Kong police raid office of poll organisers involved in Saturday’s opposition primary, over suspected data leak from 2013 project
- Hong Kong opposition camp’s lofty hopes for landmark primary run into raft of obstacles, voter turnout concerns
- Hong Kong opposition parties warned weekend primary could break national security and election laws