China on Tuesday declared a primary election for pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong "illegal", saying it violated the new national security law.
More than 600,000 residents voted over the weekend in an unofficial ballot to determine which candidates to put forward for the September election to the Legislative Council, the Beijing-dominated body that oversees the city.
The city's leader Carrie Lam said on Monday that the voting was subversive in that it was an attempt to undermine the parliament and deliberately block government proposals.
“If this so-called primary election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they called ‘35-plus’ [the majority of 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,” Ms Lam said.
“I am not saying it has breached (the law), 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.”
Beijing's Liaison office in the city later released a strongly worded statement, saying the vote was an attempt to overthrow the government and accusing one of the organisers, Benny Tai, who co-founded the National Occupy Movement, of colluding with foreign powers.
"Tai was the culprit behind the chaos in Hong Kong and the representative for colluding foreign powers," the statement said. "The goal for the opposition party is to strike a ‘colour revolution’ in Hong Kong to overturn the government”.
The statement, which accused the ballot of violating privacy laws by collecting voter data, also called on the local Hong Kong government to investigate after receiving “a lot of complaints” about the “illegitimate poll”.
Mr Tai rejected the allegations in a post on Facebook, saying the polls were free of any foreign influence and merely reflected the will of the people.
“I hope the Beijing government can see that these 610,000 votes represent Hong Kongers’ views in its most peaceful way. If such an act breaks the law, this will only make governance more difficult and generate greater resistance in society,” he said.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in late June, threatening life in prison for a range of ill-defined crimes including secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion. Critics have said the legislation effectively ends the freedoms granted to Hong Kong under the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement, which Beijing signed with Britain before the territory's handover in 1997.
The results of the primary brought a host of victories for young local candidates against more traditional, experienced law-makers. They were seen to have ridden a wave of energy generated by the pro-democracy protests that erupted in Hong Kong last year.
Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist and primary candidate, came first in his constituency and said on his Twitter that the massive turnout was in defiance of Beijing Government and the draconian law.