Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Virtual vote on universal suffrage draws 62,000

Most use a mobile phone app to answer the poll on 2017 chief executive election arrangements; Voters wait an hour at Victoria Park

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 11:21am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 10:21pm

More than 62,000 people cast their ballots in the New Year Civil Referendum Project on constitutional reform held on Wednesday.

When the poll drew to a close at 6.30pm, a total of 62,169 had cast their votes. Most of them, 40,234, voted through a mobile phone application, and 19,164 did it on the organisers’ website. 2,771 voted in person at the poll stations.

The turnout had hit 10,000 at 10am, eight hours into the poll’s opening on the website and mobile app. The number went further to 35,996 at 2pm when the poll station at Victoria Park was open. It increased to 41,082 at 3pm when the New Year’s Day march started.

Many voters had to wait about one hour in a queue before they could cast their ballots at Victoria Park. Their queue stretched all the way to near Tin Hau.

The exercise, commissioned by the Occupy Central movement and conducted by academics at the University of Hong Kong and the Polytechnic University, is considered a warm-up for a larger-scale mock referendum on constitutional reform in June.

I support universal suffrage, but events in the past have left me feeling disappointed and pessimistic

The pollsters asked citizens three questions: whether the nominating committee to pick candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive should be made “more representative”; whether there should be “pre-screening” for candidates; and whether the public should be given the right to nominate candidates.

According to results announced on Wednesday evening, 88.6 per cent, or 55,067, participants agreed that the nominating committee to pick candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive should be made “more representative”. Seven per cent of participants disagreed while the remaining 4.2 per cent had no comment.

91.2 per cent, or 56,682 people, agreed that there should not be any “pre-screening” for candidates. Six per cent disagreed.

An even higher percentage of voters, 94.1 per cent, or 58,487, agreed that the public should be given the right to nominate candidates. About 2.4 per cent participants opposed this suggestion.

Two internet platforms, a website and a mobile phone application have been available for people to vote between 1am and 6pm on Wednesday. Citizens can also vote in person in the Victoria Park on Wednesday afternoon.

Elderly voters are frustrated about the polling station at Victoria Park. At 3.30pm the line to polling station extended all the way to the Tin Hau entrance of the park.

Watch: Tens of thousands join virtual vote on universal suffrage in Hong Kong

At least 500 voters were still in line, with some complaining of having to wait one hour.

"I really want to vote but if I line up, who knows what time I'll be done. I also want to join the march," said a 62-year-old man surnamed Wong.

"Many old people don't know how to vote on their phones or on the internet."

Other voters in line gave up and instead downloaded the mobile app to cast their votes.

But several people said the mobile app was not user friendly enough.

The government commented on the voting exercise in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. It said there was no such arrangement under the constitutional framework of the HKSAR.

“Any views or proposals to be put forward on the selection of the CE in 2017 by universal suffrage must be in conformity with the Basic Law and relevant Decisions of the NPCSC, stand a reasonable chance of being endorsed by the Legislative Council and be given consent by the CE and approved by the NPCSC and be practicable in terms of implementation," it said.

Dr Chan Kin-man, an associate professor of sociology at the Chinese University and co-founder of the movement, said last-ditch efforts to publicise the poll included newspaper advertisements and Facebook promotions. Chan said the target of the exercise was to practice the voting process rather than gauging support for a particular electoral reform package.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who turned up at Victoria Park on Wednesday to cast a ballot, urged Hong Kong people to express their views in the exercise.

She said what Hong Kong needed at the start of a consultation exercise of universal suffrage was for people to use different channels to express views.

In March last year, about 220,000 people took part in a mock chief executive election conducted by HKU’s public opinion programme, either online or in person at 17 polling stations. The mock election was declared a success despite a hacking attack that took down the website.

This year’s poll will have just one polling station at Victoria Park, where protesters will gather for a pro-democracy march starting at 3pm.

“In this poll we are just asking questions about some rather abstract principles. We don’t want to narrow the scope of discussion to concrete ways to change the electoral methods yet,” Chan Kin-man said.

In a Commercial Radio interview this morning, Chan Kin-man added that he would not be too bothered about the voting turnout.

“Even if many people abstained [in any of the three questions,] it could be suggesting that more discussions are needed for that question,” Chan explained.

Results of a University of Hong Kong poll released on Tuesday showed that one in five Hongkongers considers political reform their top concern – the highest proportion recorded in 20 years in the annual poll.

The same poll shows that cost of housing remains Hongkongers' top concern, followed by political reform, while the economy ranks No3.  

The HKU poll shows that if the upcoming political reform fails, social movement in the city might become more radical and anti-mainland, according to Chan. More citizens from the middle class might choose to emigrate, he said.

But he called for all participants in today’s rally to stay calm, especially when they pass by pro-government groups’ booths near the Southorn Playground in Wanchai.

Of the 15 people interviewed by the Post on the street on Tuesday, most said they would not attend the New Year’s Day protest activities. Some say they need to rest after New Year’s Eve celebrations, or spend time with family and friends.

Some were lukewarm about the scheduled political activities.

“There is too much argument that is purely for the sake of arguing,” said one man. “[The pan-democratic and Beijing-loyalist] groups represent two extremes, and I guess I am one of the silent majority who thinks this kind of activity is not useful.”

"I support universal suffrage, but events in the past have left me feeling disappointed and pessimistic,” he said. “I have become somewhat apolitical these days. But I think it’s most important to have a government that cares for the needy,” commented Hinsley Yim.

"You never know unless you try,” said H.L. Wong, who planned on attending the march. “When 500,000 people took to the streets against the legislation of Article 23, [the 2003 march against a national security law] something happened.”

Three interviewees planned to vote in the “civil referendum” to give their views amid a five-month government consultation launched last month ahead of the 2017 election for chief executive.

However, the other interviewees said they did not know about the online survey or would not participate.

None of those interviewed by the Post intended to take part in counter-protests organised by Beijing-loyalist groups Voice of Loving Hong Kong, which is holding a pro-government protest in Admiralty, and the Defend Hong Kong Campaign, which will set up stalls along the route of the pro-democracy march.


Reporting team: Tony Cheung, Jennifer Ngo, Jeffie Lam, Ernest Kao, Johnny Tam, Fanny W. Y. Fung and Lai Ying-kit