HONG KONG: Almost 300,000 people voted for full democracy in Hong Kong within the first few hours of an unofficial online referendum yesterday in a civil campaign that has sparked warnings from China’s Communist Party leaders.
Social tensions have steadily risen in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 – with pro-democracy activists threatening to blockade part of the city’s financial district if China doesn’t allow opposition candidates to run in a 2017 election.
While Beijing says Hong Kong can go ahead with a city-wide vote in 2017 for the city’s top leader, the most far-reaching experiment in democracy in China since the Communist takeover in 1949, senior Chinese officials have ruled out allowing the public to nominate candidates. Instead, Beijing insists a small committee of largely pro-Beijing loyalists choose who gets on the ballot, which would effectively render the ability to vote meaningless.
Even with the ‘PopVote’ website functioning only intermittently after a cyber-attack earlier in the week, more than 200,000 ballots were cast in the first five hours of voting, said the Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong, which is handling the vote.
Most of the votes were cast through a smartphone app.
“We hope the government can understand through this referendum how strong public demand is, and take this into consideration when making a decision,” said Benny Tai, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong and one of the organisers of the vote.
The referendum offers alternative proposals for reform going into the upcoming 2017 election, so that it would conform to international democratic standards.
Voters are required to give their identification number to prevent cheating.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said the civil referendum had “no legal effect” and there was no provision under Hong Kong laws for such a vote.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the Chinese central government’s State Council said in a statement the election method was not in line with the universal suffrage method determined by the Basic Law and National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament. AGENCIES