Public to get a vote on chief executive
Hongkongers may have the opportunity to show their preference for the city's next chief executive under a simulated vote.
Veteran pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, head of the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, plans to hold a citywide vote two days before the Election Committee's 1,200 members choose Hong Kong's next, Beijing-approved leader.
Under Chung's plan, permanent residents aged 18 and over will be able to cast a ballot on March 23, with results to be announced later that day.
It won't have any legal or official significance but it will be a powerful indicator of what the public want, and could sway committee members who will cast their votes in the real election on March 25.
With the Chung plan, people will use an electronic voting system, accessible from their computers or mobile devices. They will also be able to use terminals at polling stations to be set up by Chung and his team.
The sophisticated system will verify a voter's identity but at the same time protect their privacy. It is similar to internet-based voting systems used in Australia, Brazil, India and Estonia.
'We expect 80,000 to 100,000 people to take part in the e-polling initiative,' Chung said.
In recent months, his HKU team has conducted frequent public surveys on the chief executive election. But Chung said the simulated vote would have a higher reference value than opinion polls, as its scale would be much bigger. An opinion poll typically involves 500 to 1,000 people.
'Those Election Committee members who promise to take into account public opinion when they consider which candidate they will support should consider the results of e-polling seriously,' he said.
The cost of administering large-scale e-polling of more than 50,000 people would be around HK$1 per voter. Chung plans to raise about HK$500,000 for the project - his most optimistic forecast is that half a million people will take part.
'We hope to get four or five sponsors to share the cost,' he said. The three main candidates for chief executive - Henry Tang Ying-yen, Leung Chun-ying and a pan-democrat candidate (the camp will choose between Frederick Fung Kin-kee and Albert Ho Chun-yan) - would be asked to sponsor the poll. Chung said he would decide by early March whether to go ahead with his plan. The project would not need approval from HKU.
Many will see the plan as a referendum on choosing the chief executive.
In January last year, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said any so-called referendum in the city would be a blatant challenge to the Basic Law and the central government's authority.