HONG KONG - Over 600,000 Hong Kongers cast their ballots in the democratic camp primaries elections over the weekend, far exceeding the organizer's expected turnout in a poll widely seen as a sign of continuing opposition to the new national security law imposed by Beijing.
The election, held 10 days after the law took effect, aims to select the strongest pro-democracy candidates to contest pro-Beijing candidates in September's Legislative Council elections.
Benny Tai, one of the vote's organizers, described the turnout as "a miracle created by Hong Kongers." He told the press that during the two-day unofficial vote, 592,000 electronic ballots and 21,000 paper ballots were tallied, more than three times his expected turnout of 170,000.
"Hong Kong people have made history again," Tai said. "Hong Kong people have demonstrated to the world, and also to the authorities, that we have not given up to strive for democracy."
Although the primaries were only for the opposition, the level of participation is seen as a guide to popular opinion in the financial hub of 7.5 million people.
The last punch
Defying warnings from Erick Tsang Kwok-Wai, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, that the vote might run afoul of the national security law, residents young and old flocked to over 250 polling stations staffed by thousands of volunteers.
A voter who gave her name only as Chan told VOA that in addition to expressing her dissatisfaction with the new national security law, she came to vote for future generations. With the awareness that these efforts might not change what the Chinese Communist Party does to Hong Kong, she said that Hong Kongers have to show they would not easily give up.
"This is the last punch by the Hong Kong citizens, and that's why we are all coming out to vote. We understand this vote is unofficial, but we want to tell the government that we want 'One Country, Two Systems,' and Hong Kong needs democracy," Chan said.
Another voter, Wong, echoed that he wished to express his dissatisfaction with the new national security law through his ballot.
"On the surface, few people dare to talk. But most of my friends do not like this new national security law," he told VOA. "With no designated agency in Hong Kong to explain the law, every government official can enforce it according to their own understanding. It's like what we used to read in Chinese history, you can be thrown into prison because of your words."
District Councilor Janet Ng told VOA that the voter turnout reflected people's distrust of the Hong Kong government.
"Everyone is feeling the chills of the new national security law, so they want to voice their opinions through their ballots," Ng said, "They don't want the future generation to live like their mainland counterparts."
'We can't be intimidated'
Meanwhile, some pro-democracy activists fear authorities may yet try to stop some candidates from running in September's election.
Sunny Cheung, a candidate in the West Kowloon district, told VOA even if he wins the primary election, he might face disqualification in the official Legislative Council election.
"Every ballot is a show of support for us. For people like Joshua Wong and me ... we might be disqualified. We might be arrested. But now, people are coming out to speak. ... We Hong Kongers value populist expression," Cheung said.
He urged all Hong Kongers to come out and vote in future elections, adding that the first democratic vote after the implementation of the national security law has shown that "we Hong Kongers can't be intimidated. We Hong Kongers can't be defeated."