More than half a million people turned out in Hong Kong over the weekend to vote in primary elections to select pro-democracy candidates for September's general election.
Around 580,000 people had cast mostly electronic votes by the end of polling on 9.00 p.m. local time on Sunday despite warning notes struck by officials, a raid targeting the poll organizer's office, and a new spike in coronavirus cases.
People lined up between socially distanced markers over both days at 250 polling stations in diverse locations across the city to cast their votes, which will help pro-democracy parties coordinate their election strategy in a bid to win a majority in the city's Legislative Council (LegCo).
"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 Hongkongers are," Au Nok-hin, one of the organizers, told government broadcaster RTHK.
Voters -- all of whom wore face-masks amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases in recent days, voted on their cell phones after their identities were verified by volunteers.
"When #China attempts to crush dissents with fear and force, nearly 600,000 #Hkers have used our actions today to ward off fear, cast ballots in this first and maybe last #hkprimaries and proved to the world that - Our spirit of resistance will not be killed," former 2014 pro-democracy movement leader Joshua Wong said via Twitter.
"With our unbeatable determination for liberty, the draconian law marks the beginning of #HKers’ real struggle for freedoms without fear," wrote Wong, who is barred from leaving Hong Kong pending trial on public order charges linked to protests last year.
The high turnout came despite warnings from government officials that the primaries could be in breach of a draconian security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Hong Kong on June 30, bypassing LegCo and undermining the city's promised freedoms of speech and association.
Several reports were received by police of people 'breaking the law' by taking part in the primaries.
A police raid on the offices of a polling organization tasked with running the election appeared to have done little to frighten people off.
Goal of 35 Legco seats
Officers at the scene of Friday's raid on Hong Kong's Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) office said they were investigating allegations of "dishonest use of a personal computer," and confiscated computers at the scene with a warrant, local media reported.
The 2020 Hong Kong pro-democracy primaries will select candidates from several pro-democracy groups and parties in the hope of winning at least 35 LegCo seats, the minimum number needed to vote down government legislation including the city's annual budget.
The primaries were set up as a way to maximize the chances of a majority for pro-democracy candidates, who swept the board in District Council elections in November 2019, in a ringing public endorsement for the city's months-long pro-democracy movement.
The election, organized by Au along with legal scholar and Occupy Central founder Benny Tai, and coordinated by Power for Democracy, used a voting system designed by PORI.
Tai hailed the turnout figure as "above and beyond the organizers' target" in a social media post on Sunday.
Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is also awaiting trial on public order charges in connection with an "illegal" demonstration during last year's protest movement, said via his Twitter account: "We #HKers are determined to win 35+ in September Legco election. We will take back the control of our lives."
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang warned that the election might violate the security law, because it was set up with the objective of blocking the passage of government legislation in LegCo.
Tsang said the elections could therefore be seen to breach provisions of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which bans secession, subversion, and collusion with overseas powers.
But Tai said a pro-democracy victory wouldn't be "seriously interfering in, disrupting, or undermining the performance of duties and functions" of the government, as proscribed by the law, because chief executive Carrie Lam has the power to dissolve LegCo and call a by-election.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.