HONG KONG (AP) – Young activists and localist candidates dominated Hong Kongâ€™s unofficial pro-democracy primaries over the weekend, with hundreds of thousands of people voting despite warnings the election could violate the territory’s new security law imposed by Beijing.
Candidates who topped the polls were in their 40s or younger in every constituency and included prominent pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Jimmy Sham, who helped organize many of last yearâ€™s anti-government protests that had alarmed the central government in Beijing.
Incumbent lawmakers such as Ted Hui and Eddie Chu, known for their vocal and outspoken criticism in legislative meetings, also took top spots.
The polls were held to whittle the pro-democracy campâ€™s candidates to field a unified slate in a legislative election in September in hopes of achieving a â€œ35-plusâ€ majority in the 70-seat legislature.
The pro-democracy camp has pledged to vote down the budget if they attain majority. Under Hong Kongâ€™s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, the cityâ€™s leader â€“ currently Carrie Lam â€“ must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
â€œThe victory of movement activists in the primary implies the continuation of the spirit of our resistance against Chinaâ€™s growing curbs over the cityâ€™s freedoms,â€ Wong wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
â€œIn the eyes of voters, candidatesâ€™ spirit of resistance overrides other traditional elements like policy platforms, academic and professional backgrounds,â€ he said.
Lam on Monday warned organizers and candidates of the primary that the event could be considered subversive under the city’s tough new national security law if the objective is to resist every policy initiative of the government.
The sweeping law Beijing enacted on June 30 in response to last year’s often violent protests calling for greater democracy and police accountability outlaws secessionist, subversive and terrorist activities, as well as collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs. The maximum punishment for serious offenders is life imprisonment.
â€œI am not saying it has breached it, but I have to put forward a warning that if thatâ€™s going to be proven to be the case, then itâ€™s certainly a case to be answered,â€ Lam said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated the pro-democracy camp on their â€œsuccessfulâ€ primary election, saying that the over 600,000 Hong Kongers who voted have â€œdemonstrated their desire to make their voices heard.â€
He also said that the U.S. will monitor developments closely as the legislative elections in September draw near.
â€œWe note with grave concern Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lamâ€™s threat that this primary may have violated Beijingâ€™s new â€˜national securityâ€™ law for the territory, once again demonstrating the Chinese Communist Partyâ€™s fear of democracy and its own peopleâ€™s free thinking,â€ he said.
Beijingâ€™s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said the primary â€œblatantly challengesâ€ the Basic Law. It also said it violated the national security law, singling out the organizer Benny Tai and accusing him of subversive activities and advocating for the independence of Hong Kong.
Beijingâ€™s liaison office in Hong Kong also accused the organizers of planning the event â€œwith the support of foreign forces,â€ and said that the primaries collected a large amount of personal information from the people and may violate privacy regulations.
On Wednesday, one of the organizers, former lawmaker Au Nok-hin, ended his association with the primary election and said in a statement posted on Facebook that he is withdrawing â€œdue to the accusation from the Liaison Office and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office recently.â€
He said that even though the pro-democracy camp had emphasized repeatedly that the primary election was legal, there have been accusations otherwise, which has created a â€œrisk of personal safety.â€
â€œIt is a hard decision … I hope everyone could understand my limitations,â€ he said, apologizing for his withdrawal.