Young Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians vowed Wednesday they would not be cowed by China’s new security law and would press ahead with plans to win a majority in the city’s legislature.
More than 600,000 people turned out at the weekend to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that the exercise itself could breach Beijing’s sweeping new law.
The unofficial primary vote was an attempt by a coalition of democracy groups to avoid a potentially damaging voter split during September’s polls for the city’s partially elected legislature.
Results released Wednesday showed sixteen young firebrand politicians — who have dubbed themselves the “resistance camp” and have long been critical of Beijing — had done especially well.
Older, more traditional candidates, made up a smaller selection of winners.
The young activists include 23-year-old former student protest leader Joshua Wong, as well as Jimmy Sham, who helped organise last year’s huge pro-democracy rallies.
“The results of the primary election showed that the resistance faction has become mainstream,” Lester Shum, another former student leader, told reporters at a press conference.
“Now our most important task is to unite and meet Beijing’s puppet regime in Hong Kong head-on,” he added.
After the primary, Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong accused democracy activists of trying to launch a revolution.
It also said any candidates campaigning to paralyse the 70-seat legislature through winning a majority broke an anti-subversion clause of the new law.
Senior Hong Kong leaders also suggested that resisting government proposals in the city’s parliament could be against the law.
The official line raises the prospect that some prospective candidates might be prosecuted or barred from standing in the election — the latter tactic increasingly common in recent years.
But activists insisted they had the right to let voters choose their preferred candidate — and block government legislation if their camp won a majority.
“If we are elected a legislator, casting a negative vote is part of our lawful right,” said Fergus Leung, one of the activists.
Wong, who is vocally loathed by Beijing, called on China to let Hong Kongers make up their own minds.
“Disqualifying even just one candidate is too much,” he said.
On Wednesday, former lawmaker Au Nok-hin said he was withdrawing from the group which organised the primary because of Beijing’s threat of prosecution.
“Withdrawal is the only choice that I can protect myself and others,” he wrote in a Facebook statement.
Hong Kong’s legislature is weighted to favour pro-Beijing parties, with only half the 70 seats directly elected.
The rest are chosen by a variety of industry bodies and special interest groups — known as functional constituencies — that reliably return establishment figures.
Seizing all 35 elected seats is a tall order for the democracy camp, but activists are hoping to capitalise to seething anti-Beijing sentiment after last year’s protests.
China imposed the sweeping security law on Hong Kong late last month in response to those often violent protests.