Occupy Central

Occupy Central pleases no one with decision to widen ballot on chief executive vote reforms

Organisers of movement were trying to boost turnout for the 'referendum' by adding another question; instead, they've turned voters away

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 11:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2015, 3:38pm

Occupy Central organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting said last month that he and his fellow activists would not change or add questions to the ballot to be held this month to determine the public's preference for electoral reform.

"We may not be able to quantify popular support for moderate proposals … but we will not change the set-up of the civil referendum," the University of Hong Kong legal academic told the South China Morning Post.

Tai was speaking amid criticism that the three proposals shortlisted for the ballot were on the radical end of the political spectrum when it came to choosing candidates for the 2017 chief executive election.

But how things have changed in barely a month.

Ostensibly to boost turnout, the trio spearheading the civil disobedience movement - Tai, Chinese University sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming - said last week that another question would be added to the ballot.

The question would be: Should the Legislative Council veto the government's proposal if it does not "satisfy international standards allowing genuine choices by electors"?

The trio has also set the turnout target for the "referendum" - due to be held from June 20 to 22 - at 100,000 and apologised in advance should they fail to meet it.

The change, aimed at holding the radical and moderate factions together, has failed to please anyone.

Moderates said they would not vote on the first question, even if they were voting on the new one, while radicals said the change violated procedure. And Beijing loyalists and the government believe the best tactic is to give the ballot the cold shoulder.

In a vote on May 6, 2,500 supporters of the Occupy Central movement chose three proposals from a list of 15, each of which calls for the public to be able to nominate candidates.

Some moderate pan-democrats suggested they might not join the vote, saying the choice was too narrow given that the local and central governments had repeatedly rejected the public nomination option.

One of them, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, said the extra question would not serve much purpose and could instead send the wrong message.

The Civic Party lawmaker's own reform proposal, which excludes public nomination and focuses on the composition of the nominating committee, did not make it to the shortlist.

"If turnout for the ballot is high, supporters of public nomination could over-generalise the results, saying such a proposal represents Hongkongers' consensus," he said.

And even if the new question attracted moderates to turn up for the vote, they would probably not vote on the first proposal concerning the selection process, Tong added.

"The poll would also be discredited if there is a huge discrepancy between the voting rate of the first and second questions," he said.

The radical wing, which strongly backs public nomination, "regrets" the additional question.

"The decision to add a second question has violated the established deliberative procedures," the League of Social Democrats, chaired by lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, said.

Beijing loyalist Wong Kwok-kin, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said the vote had become a farce and the organisers were moving the goalposts.

"We will not take any action … The 100,000-vote target is low," Wong said, comparing it with the 230,000 votes received in a mock vote for chief executive in 2012.

A government official said: "We will just snub the vote."