Hong Kong's opposition camp says more than 600,000 citizens in the Chinese-ruled city have cast ballots over the weekend in primaries it cast as a symbolic protest vote against tough national security laws imposed by officials in Beijing.
The unofficial poll will decide the strongest pro-democracy candidates to contest elections in September to Hong Kong's Legislative Council.
Then, they aim to seize majority control for the first time from pro-Beijing rivals by riding a wave of anti-China sentiment stirred by the law, which critics say has gravely undermined Hong Kong's freedoms.
While the primaries are only for the opposition camp, the level of participation is seen as a guide to popular opinion in the city of 7.5 million people.
"A high turnout will send a very strong signal to the international community that we Hong Kongers never give up," said Sunny Cheung, 24, one of a batch of aspiring young democrats out lobbying and giving stump speeches.
"And that we still stand with the democratic camp, we still support democracy and freedom."
Defying warnings from a senior Hong Kong official that the vote might fall foul of the national security law, residents young and old flocked to more than 250 polling stations across the city, manned by thousands of volunteers.
Long queues formed, with people voting via their mobile phones after having their identities verified.
Organisers said 592,000 people had voted online and 21,000 had cast paper ballots at the end of two full days of polling - more than expected, and representing about a third of voters who backed the democrats in an election last year.
"Even under the shadow of the national security law, there were still 600,000 people coming out," said an organiser, Au Nok-hin.
"You can see the courage of the Hong Kong people in this ... Hong Kongers have created another miracle."
Australian Associated Press