More than 228,983 Hongkongers have cast their votes in the democratic camp’s primary election, according to organisers, despite government warnings over its legitimacy.

The first day of the citywide primaries on Saturday recorded 137,806 voters by 6 pm, with long queues forming outside multiple polling stations.

Andrew Chiu and Au Nok-hin at a Kowloon West polling station converted from a bus. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Voters are trying to select candidates to run in the official legislative election in September. They are looking to secure seats in five geographical constituencies – Kowloon East, Kowloon West, Hong Kong Island, New Territories East and New Territories West – as well functional constituencies, including “super” district councillors and health services sectors.

Organisers said their objective was to enhance pro-democracy candidates’ chances of winning a majority in the legislature – a goal known as “35+”.

Some have called the primaries the last free election in Hong Kong in anticipation of candidate disqualifications.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang warned that participation in the primaries could violate the law due to organisers’ call for democrats to veto the annual government budget if they win a majority in the legislature.

A polling station in Tin Shui Estate. Photo: Stand News.

Co-organiser and law professor Benny Tai told reporters last Monday that he was not optimistic about the turnout due to the Beijing-imposed national security law, criminalising secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.

Another organiser, ex-lawmaker Au Nok-hin, told reporters that the government had shown political intolerance: “[The government] can tolerate the pro-Beijing camp trying to coordinate the list together… But they [cannot tolerate] the opposition side trying to organise a primary election because they are afraid of losing the Legislative Council election.”

A gelato shop in Tsuen Wan on Friday cancelled plans to become one of the polling stations after property management said its participation in primaries would violate their tenancy agreement.

On Saturday afternoon, Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam – who is running in the Kowloon East constituency – posted a Facebook status saying a civilian had attacked a volunteer at one of his promotional stalls due to a political disagreement.

Activist Joshua Wong, who is vying for the same constituency, said he was also confronted by pro-Beijing figure Man Shek whilst campaigning with Tiffany Yuen – a candidate for Hong Kong Island. Shek reportedly left after arguing with Wong and Yuen for around 10 minutes.

A man surnamed Mak told HKFP that Hongkongers should enjoy the basic right to vote: “I don’t know if there will be a chance to a cast a vote in the future.”

He added government intervention in the primaries, including a police raid of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI) the night before, had motivated him to participate in the election.

Mr Mak at a polling station. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Police attempted to remove computers from the research centre, which designed the voting platform used in the primaries. Officers accused HKPORI of using a computer with dishonest intent.

As a result, organisers pushed back the start time of the primaries from 9 am to noon, citing security concerns.

Tai told reporters that data related to the election was stored separately in PCs and was not affected by the raid. He added in order to alleviate public concerns they had changed the passwords, encryption and QR codes used in the primaries.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.