About 700,000 Hong Kong citizens have voted so far in an unofficial referendum hosted by civic group Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) on democratic electoral reform, earning the ire of communist China.
China has promised Hong Kong a direct vote for the next chief executive in 2017 instead of election via a largely pro-Beijing committee made of up representatives of different economic sectors and Hong Kong politicians. But the Chinese government insists that all candidates should be selected by a nominating committee, claiming that it is the only lawful means to do so according to the former British colony's constitution — the Basic Law.
People in Hong Kong, which enjoys a high level of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle, worry that the nominating committee is a way for China to ensure only puppet candidates are chosen. One of the criteria of a chief executive set by Beijing is he or she must “love the country and love Hong Kong.”
The referendum, held in partnership with University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme, includes three different options for electing Hong Kong's next leader, and all three include allowing the people to choose the candidates. Voting opened on June 20, 2014 and will end on June 29.
In the first two days alone, 700,000 participated, despite ongoing massive DDoS attacks targeting its voting system that began on June 14 when it opened for pre-registration. The scale of the attacks has led many to believe that the Chinese government is behind them. TV propaganda has pushed the idea that the nominating committee is necessary, and Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times called the referendum “an illegal farce” and “ludicrousness.”
Before the referendum began, Occupy Central expected 300,000 votes, but is now estimating that a million citizens could participate by the end. The group is planning protests if the government doesn't act on the demands for universal suffrage.
Lester Sum, vice secretary of Hong Kong Federation of Students, wrote on citizen media platform inmediahk.net about the implications of civic referendum:
Hong Kong people have been struggling for universal suffrage for more than 30 years. Their hair has turned grey along the path toward democracy. Some have left this world. Yet we still don't have genuine democracy. Should we continue to wait? Should we continue to believe the lie of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?
More importantly, the upcoming political reform may be the last chance for us to make thing right. If a fake universal suffrage proposal has passed, Hong Kong's fate would be controlled by the CCP, property developers and the privileged class. The political power will not be given to the people, and the government will never serve the people. […]
If we agree that Hong Kong must be changed and that we have to implement a political system that gives power to the people, let us act, use our vote to show our determination for universal suffrage and citizen nomination to the corrupt power of the CCP and [current Hong Kong Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying. The hope is in the people, the change begins with struggle. The civil referendum on June 22 is the moment the city's fate is written.
Instead of expressing himself in words, Eric Chow designed a series of posters to show the referendum as a means to defend freedom of expression, the rule of law, human rights, local culture and social justice.
Cheung Yuen Man, a local writer, took a more personal approach and wrote a letter to her senior family members who escaped to Hong Kong from China and became apolitical or even conservative:
I haven't forgotten that you swam to Hong Kong. […] The waves in the sea were huge and every one of them covered your head. In those days, there were sharks near Hong Kong. Imagine how much courage you had when you jumped into the sea. […] You were seeking stability in those days. Now we are also seeking the same stability. Maybe you don't know much about terms like “one person one vote,” “universal suffrage,” “democracy” and “freedom.” Neither do I. Let's talk about everyday life: We hope that we won't be forced out of our homes, we hope that we don't have to bribe someone to get into university, we hope that we can still chat freely on Facebook, we hope that our vegetables are not poisonous and our dogs won't be butchered on the streets. […] We want to be obedient. But the government has lost its ability to ask people to obey. Our generation is similar to yours. The only difference is that you could escape to “Hong Kong,” while we have no where to go.
Political news columnist “Timar Man” called the 700,000 votes so far a public opinion revolution in the House News:
即使再動員更多職業紅衞兵組織，同洶湧嘅投票市民一比，即刻變成鬧劇，數以十萬計市民表態，猶如洗太平地，沖走呢類牛鬼蛇神。[…] 過去幾日，我們所經歷的是一場民意革命，香港走出了一個全民投票新模式，其影響也不限於2017真普選，也不限於佔中運動。小小香港一個全民投票，觸發國家級網絡戰，可見在某些人眼中，需要將全民投票消滅於萌芽狀態，正因為他們也知道，這個Pandora box打開後，將會釋放出新的本土政治能量。
No matter how many professional red guards were mobilized [by the pro-Beijing clan], when compared with the turnout of the civil referendum, they were just clowns. The voices of hundreds of thousands of people has exercised all the ghosts and spirits. […] We have experienced a public opinion revolution in the past few days. Its impact is no smaller than universal suffrage in 2017 and the Occupy Central campaign. A small civil referendum in Hong Kong has triggered a state-scale cyber war. It is obvious that someone is trying to nip this in the bud. They know that this Pandora's box will release political energy into Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government will soon present a reform package for the election of the legislature in 2016 and the chief executive in 2017. It recently completed the public consultation phase, and the consultation report is due in a few months. On the surface, reform sounds promising. But the government has stressed that the reform must be within the framework of the Basic Law, and interpretation of that law rests largely with Beijing, so civic action from Hong Kongers is important.
Another unofficial referendum is planned, pitting the citizen proposal against the government proposal after it is released, and if the citizen proposal wins, Occupy Central plans to peacefully take over the city's Central District.
Follow our in-depth coverage: Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution