Hong Kong’s traditional opposition parties have lost ground to localist challengers in a fierce weekend primary contest to determine who should run in coming elections, as the city leader warned any planned action to paralyse policymaking was potentially subversive.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor issued a strong warning to the candidates and organisers of the primary on Monday night, saying it was subversive for them to vow to seize control of the legislature and vote down key government proposals.
“If this so-called primary election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they called ‘35-plus’ [lawmakers], with the objective of objecting or resisting every policy initiative of the HKSAR government, it may fall into the category of subverting the state power – one of the four types of offences under the national security law,” she said.
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“I am not saying it has breached it, but I have to put forward a warning that if that’s going to be proven to be the case, then it’s certainly a case to be answered.”
In a strongly worded statement issued late on Monday, a spokesman for Beijing’s liaison office in the city condemned the opposition camp for ignoring the Hong Kong government’s warning of possible legal breaches and pressing ahead with the primary.
It named Occupy movement co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting as a suspect in a possible breach of the national security law by coordinating with the opposition camp to seek control of the legislature, vote down the budget, paralyse the government and subvert the state power.
It also accused Tai and the opposition of aiming to take over the city’s governance by staging the Hong Kong version of a “colour revolution”.
The office also threw its weight behind the government to conduct an investigation in accordance with the law, saying the primary was a serious provocation of the current election system and a blatant violation of privacy laws as the opposition camp had taken the chance to collect a massive amount of voters’ information.
As preliminary results covering about 590,000 electronic votes were announced on Monday night, it emerged that traditional parties lost grounds in most of the direct constituencies, with Helena Wong, a lawmaker of the Democratic Party, only came seventh in the Kowloon West constituency, where the pan-democrat camp aimed to win four seats in September’s Legislative Council elections.
Former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, of the League of Social Democrats, managed only ninth place in New Territories East, for which the camp agreed that only the top seven candidates should run in September.
Candidates from numerous small parties were wiped out, including Kalvin Ho Kai-ming from the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood and Carol Ng Man-yee from the Labour Party, who lost in their respective constituencies.
Localist candidates, with many gaining public attention for their activist roles since last year’s anti-government protests, gained the upper hand in the primary.
Political activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was the top candidate in Kowloon East, while two of the localists he endorsed – former journalist Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam and incumbent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick – came first in New Territories East and New Territories West respectively.
Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, and Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang took the first two places in Kowloon West.
Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai, the candidate endorsed by activist Nathan Law Chung-chung who withdrew from the election because of the new security law and revealed on Monday night that he fled to London, came second in Hong Kong Island after Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung.
Chung Kim-wah, deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, said the final results would be released on Tuesday at the earliest after they counted 21,000 paper ballots of all constituencies and handled problematic votes.
The opposition camp held the polls to whittle down their list of Legco candidates from 52 to those with the best chance of achieving a “35-plus” majority in the 70-seat legislature. Running too many opposition candidates, they believed, would play into the hands of pro-establishment rivals by splitting the votes.
Among the 52 candidates were 27 localist challengers, 11 activists from traditional parties and 14 incumbent opposition lawmakers, including seven from the Democratic Party, four from the Civic Party, and pan-democrats Eddie Chu, Joseph Lee Kok-long, and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the results, which reflected the rise of localists, would prompt the winning candidates to adopt a radical approach throughout the election campaign.
“But it might also prompt the authorities to further tighten their grip on this narrower spectrum of the pro-democracy camp, by disqualifying the candidates, or even postponing the election,” he said.
In a statement, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said it had received complaints that the two-day exercise was to manipulate the Legco elections and it could breach privacy laws. It also noted there were complaints that the exercise could breach the national security law as it was a bid to subvert the state power and interfere with the functions of the body of power of Hong Kong.
Key organiser Benny Tai said candidates were not seeking to undermine the performance of duties and functions by the body of power of the central government or of Hong Kong, referring to their agreement that pan-democrats should veto the budget if they were voted into Legco.
“Legco’s power of vetoing the budget is stated in the Basic Law,” he said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution. “How can a power that is recognised by the Basic Law be breaching the national security law?”
Au Nok-hin, a former lawmaker who coordinated the primary, said the government’s attempt to threaten them again with the newly enacted law would not succeed.
“We held the primary in a peaceful manner and haven’t intruded on anyone’s rights,” he said.
On Sunday, several incumbent lawmakers from the Democratic and Civic parties had made an “emergency appeal” to voters. The moderate politicians found themselves in deep water as they attempted to secure support in the face of challenges from young localist rivals who had opted for more confrontational tactics against the authorities.
Long queues were spotted outside polling stations across the city over the weekend, as a total of 592,211 votes were cast via a mobile phone app and about 21,000 paper ballots were cast in 240 polling stations during the two-day weekend primary.
The figure, which far exceeded the original target of 170,000, represented more than 13.8 per cent of Hong Kong’s registered voters. The citywide primary came less than two weeks after Beijing’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong.
The 52 candidates were running in all five geographical constituencies, as well as in the health services and district council (second) functional constituencies.
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