Half a million vote in Hong Kong primary in 'reaction to repression'

The number exceeds organisers’ initial estimates of a turnout of 170,000 people

More than half a million people have turned up to vote on the second and final day of Hong Kong's primary elections, held by the city’s pro-democracy camp over the weekend. The turnout is reflecting steely support for the movement despite Beijing’s imposition of a national-security law that has curbed public expressions of dissent in recent weeks.

The organisers, Power of Democracy, announced the news on Twitter at 6:30 pm (1030 GMT), while crowds continued to filter through polling stations across the 18 Hong Kong districts. Voting is set to close at 9 pm. 

Democratic Party politician Ted Hui said the turnout showed "Hong Kongers' reaction to repression of the tyranny. A sign that Hong Kongers will make use of the election in September to uphold our freedom."

The primaries aren’t officially part of the city’s political process, but are being held to settle on candidates and avoid splitting the vote going into legislative elections this September. The Democratic camp hopes to ultimately gain a majority in September's Legislative Council election, for which the grouping needs to take 35 or more seats out of 70. Such a move would give them more power to veto pro-establishment legislation.

The primaries were held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory, targeting acts of independence, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. A move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability..

Registered voters braved heat and social distancing measures - which are back in place after a surge in new cases of imported and local Covid-19 - to cast their ballot. Votes counted on the first day of the primary election reached 228,983, while by midday Sunday, that number had shot to 318,000 electronic votes and 10,000 paper votes.

 Politician and activist Chu Hoi Dick said the primary signified a protest vote against the Chinese Communist Party that would determine the future political leaning of the whole Democratic camp.

The primaries were thrown into panic and fears of cancellation on Friday after co-organisers, pollsters Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), were raided by police, who made no arrests and are investigating a case involving a complaint over data handling.

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