Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Monday said the authorities are investigating whether or not the weekend's primaries, which saw more than 600,000 people show up to select pro-democracy candidates in September's Legislative Council (LegCo) elections, were in breach of a draconian security law recently imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"If this so-called primary election's purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal ... of objecting to and resisting every policy initiative of the Hong Kong ... government, then it may fall into the category of subverting state power, which is now one of the four types of offenses under the new national security law," Lam said.
Hong Kong's Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) said in a statement that the government had received complaints that the primaries "may have allegedly interfered with and manipulated" the elections and jeopardized the integrity of the electoral process.
Article 22 of China's National Security Law for Hong Kong bans anyone from "seriously interfering in, disrupting or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the body of central power of the People's Republic of China or the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by force or threat of force or other unlawful means."
"The government is now conducting an in-depth investigation and will seek legal advice if necessary," a CMAB spokesman said in a statement on Monday.
"In case of any violation of the relevant laws and regulations, the Government will immediately refer the case to relevant law enforcement agencies for investigation and apprehension in accordance with the law," it said.
"If anyone is found to have committed acts of deceit or violated any law during the electoral process, the government will handle the case in a serious manner and there shall be no tolerance," the statement said, adding that the government doesn't recognize the "so-called primaries" as an approved part of the democratic process.
Some complaints also claimed that the people standing in line to vote had breached a current ban on large public gatherings.
Pressure from Beijing
The Communist Party-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper chimed in with an editorial on Monday, likely indicating that the pressure to pursue the organizers of the primaries is coming straight from Beijing.
"The ... primary election violated Articles 22 and 29 of the national security law's provisions on subversion of state power, obstructing government departments and manipulating elections," the paper said.
Organizers said 610,000 people turned out in Hong Kong over the weekend to vote in the primaries, 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).
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.
A police raid on the offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), the polling organization tasked with running the election, appeared to have done little to frighten people off.
Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of social policy at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University who works with PORI, said the more traditional parties in the pro-democracy camp could lose out to more radical activists in the primaries.
Under a single system
Benson Wong, a political cultural scientist at the Hong Kong Baptist University, said the imposition of the national security law by China had collapsed any distinction between Hong Kong and mainland China in many people's minds.
"Hongkongers feel that we are now under a single system under the national security law," Wong said. "So they may think why not vote for someone a bit more radical both in terms of their speech and action to take on the government in LegCo?"
Wong said even the mainstream opposition parties were sounding more radical in the wake of the national security law.
"There are also some regarded as non-traditional pro-democracy parties, and they may resonate more with voters," he said.
Ma Yue, an associate professor in the department of politics at CUHK, said there will be scant use for traditional parliamentarians in the next LegCo, as the president and security guards have already begun physically removing pro-democracy members who filibuster, protest, or otherwise object to government legislation.
"I think many people think there won't be much room for debate or deliberation in the next session of LegCo," Ma said. "So it doesn't really matter so much ... if they vote for [newcomers]."
"I think most people are just happy to find people who are willing to sit in LegCo."
Taiwan Citizen's Front founder Jiang Min-yan said the huge turnout for the primaries had sent a strong message to the authorities in a city where constant police violence and thousands of arrests have dampened street protests and where permission for mass rallies and demonstrations is often refused.
"There was so much resistance in the primaries ... even if street protests are proving unsustainable," Jiang said. "This democratic primary was actually a vote of no-confidence in the national security law."
He said the law has already created a chilling effect in Hong Kong.
Reported by Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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