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Hong Kong Democrat voters defy threats with high turnout

[HONG KONG] More than half a million Hong Kong residents defied government warnings and a fresh coronavirus outbreak to vote in an unofficial primary, a strong turnout that signals continued resistance to Beijing's decision to impose a broad national security law just two weeks ago.

More than 610,000 residents, representing more than 13 per cent of registered voters, cast ballots in the two-day vote to narrow down the opposition candidates competing in elections for the city's Legislative Council set for Sept 6. The turnout, which was more than three times organisers' expected tally, came despite government statements that the effort could violate provisions of the new security law.

The results were originally meant to come out on Monday but were delayed amid lengthy vote-counting. However, that still give the selected candidates plenty of time to officially register when the window opens later this month. Those selected must still overcome calls for disqualification by pro-Beijing politicians, with more moderate pro-democracy groups issuing a call Sunday for their supporters to challenge more radical "localist" candidates.

Some of the city's most prominent activists including Joshua Wong and Jimmy Sham, whose group Civil Human Rights Front organised some of last year's biggest pro-democracy protests, led in preliminary results based on electronic votes released by the organizers Monday night. Final results could still be revised after ballot counting concludes Tuesday.

"People took this opportunity to make their voice heard," Alvin Yeung, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told Bloomberg Television on Monday. "We're talking about 600,000 people. It's not a small number. And remember, this is not an election organised by the government. It's organised by civil society. And so this is amazing."

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On Monday, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute which helped the democrats conduct the primary said all votes on Hong Kong Island were counted by 5 pm. Counting was ongoing for other areas and the institute expected to be finished by around mid-day on Tuesday, the group said.

The opposition hopes to ride the momentum of a decisive victory in last November's District Council elections to secure an unprecedented 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.

"We will not tolerate any practices trying to interfere, disrupt, cause confusion to a coming election in September to the Legislative Council," Mrs Lam said at a briefing Monday night. She said there was "no such thing as a primary" in Hong Kong's election system.

"I hope people will not be confused by this so-called primary," she said. "It's not part of Hong Kong's electoral system."

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