Polls for pro-democracy candidates running in the 2020 Legislative Council Election have opened on Saturday. The weekend primaries got underway a day after police tried to raid the offices of the voting system designer.

Coordinated by the 2014 Occupy protests fo-founder Benny Tai and former lawmaker Au Nok-hin, the primaries – featuring 52 candidates and their nomination lists – aims to narrow the final list of pro-democracy candidates for the official election in September. Pan-democrats hope to win more than 35 seats to become the majority in the legislature.

democrats pro democracy 35+ legco legislative council primary election 2020 september au nok hin andrew chiu benny tai
A press conference held in June to introduce the primary elections. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

The primaries cover all the five geographical constituencies, the functional constituencies of District Council (Second) and the medical services sector.

There are more than 250 polling stations across Hong Kong, with several located at district councillors’ offices. Others included pro-democracy shops and street booths. In light of an increase in local coronavirus infections over the past week, Au said on Thursday that all voters must wear a mask and have their body temperatures taken when possible. Organisers said they would also ensure the number of voters in one location would not exceed the public gathering limit of 50.

Hong Kong registered 38 new coronavirus cases on Friday, among which 32 were locally transmitted. It pushed the city’s tally to 1,403 infections and seven deaths.

At the same press conference on Thursday, Tai admitted he had concerns about the turnout rate, which could affect the validity of the polling results as a reference for deciding on the finalised list of candidates.

coronavirus covid masks
Photo: May James/HKFP.

On Friday, the Housing Authority sent a letter to district councillors, warning them that the use of offices as polling stations could breach the terms on their lease. The government department said it would take “appropriate actions” if any such violations were found. A pro-democracy shop withdrew plans to be a polling station after property management warned its participation could violate their tenancy agreement.

Personal data collection

On Thursday, Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Stephen Wong said the “referendum” would have no constitutional basis nor be legally binding in Hong Kong. He said organisers of the primaries must explain the purpose of gathering personal information. Any illegal, misleading or unfair collection of personal data could breach the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, Wong said.

In response, Tai said on Thursday that organisers had never referred to the polling as a “referendum.” He added the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI) – which designed the voting system for the primaries – had spoken with the commission already.

On Friday evening, police tried to enter the offices of HKPORI and take away their computers. Officers said they had a warrant and accused the organisation of dishonest use of a computer. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years behind bars.

Saturday’s election commencement time was delayed to 12 pm as organisers sought to upgrade security in light of the raid, according to Tai.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.