Over 600,000 votes were cast in Hong Kong primary elections for pro-democracy candidates over the weekend, a turnout over three times as large as expected, given the climate of repression on the island after Beijing imposed a “national security” law that effectively criminalized political opposition.
Organizers of the opposition primary hailed the turnout as a “miracle” of defiance.
“Hong Kong people have made history again – another miracle happened in Hong Kong,” gushed co-organizer Benny Tai after the polls closed. “Hong Kong people – after all these years, since 2003 – have demonstrated to the world, and also to the authorities, that we have not given up to strive for democracy.”
“Even though there’s the threat of the national security law, there are still nearly 600,000 people coming out to vote. This shows how brave Hong Kongers are,” another organizer, Au Nok-hin, told Radio Television Hong Kong News (RTHK).
“When China attempts to crush dissent with fear and force, nearly 600,000 Hong Kongers have used our actions today to ward off fear, cast ballots in this first – and maybe last – Hong Kong primaries, and proved to the world that our spirit of resistance will not be killed,” said prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong.
“With our unbeatable determination for liberty, the draconian [Chinese national security] law marks the beginning of Hong Kongers’ real struggle for freedoms without fear,” Wong said.
Most of the votes were cast electronically, but an impressive number of people queued up in person at some 200 polling stations despite brutal heat, the coronavirus threat, and the climate of intimidation in Hong Kong.
Some officials warned before the primary that it might be ruled illegal and broken up by the police because the organizers spoke of vetoing the city budget for the coming fiscal year if they win at least 35 seats in the legislature – an act of interference with government operations that could be prosecuted as sedition under the new security law.
A few minor scuffles were reported, and one of the candidates running in the primary was briefly detained for “suspected possession of a dangerous drug,” which he said was in fact prescription medication. The police did raid the offices of one of the organizations that sponsored the primary, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) but the raid did not seem to hinder voting.