Chinese authorities warn it is illegal and that Hong Kong will never be the same. But nearly 600,000 votes have been cast in an unofficial referendum demanding democratic reform.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy under the formula of “one country, two systems”, along with an undated promise of universal suffrage.
But the referendum’s organisers say those promises have come to nothing. They hope the votes will send a message to the Hong Kong and Beijing governments that voters want a direct say in the nomination of candidates for chief executive in 2017. “What is the point of one man, one vote if at the end of the day we have to vote from three puppets or four puppets anointed by Beijing?” Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s former top civil servant, said yesterday. On Friday 100 people gathered in Central to sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical Les Misérables.
Pro-Beijing newspapers, Chinese officials and Hong Kong business tycoons have criticised the Occupy Central campaign. At one polling station, about 20 people shouted at voters, urging them not to cast ballots. “You are sending your children to the battlefield,” one shouted. Activists say it is a peaceful movement demanding a “genuine choice”. Their voices may be loud, but whether they can sway the majority view remains to be seen.