Voters queue for up to an hour to take part in 'civil referendum'

People queue for an hour to cast ballots after online problems but many are pleased with chance to give views on constitutional reform

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 2:58am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 9:25am

"Is this the end of the queue?" That was the question asked by many who tried to vote in Occupy Central's "civil referendum" on constitutional reform yesterday.

Hundreds of people wanting to cast their ballots formed a long line in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, which at one point stretched half a kilometre. Some were there because of problems with an online voting system, including a smartphone application that was overwhelmed for a time by the volume of people trying to use it.

"I am still very happy to see the long, long queue - that reflects Hongkongers' determination to press for universal suffrage," said one man who had travelled from Tuen Mun.

The "civil referendum" was conducted by opinion pollsters and asked participants 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.

A total of 62,169 people participated. A majority of them, 40,234, managed to vote through the mobile phone application, and 19,164 via the organisers' website. The remaining 2,771 voted in person at the Victoria Park polling station.

Staff from Hong Kong University's public opinion programme held up signs in Victoria Park to inform people of the waiting time - from 30 minutes to an hour - while some tried to assist people to vote online via smartphones.

Elderly voters were frustrated, with some complaining of having to queue for 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, referring to yesterday's protest march from the park to Central. "Many old people don't know how to vote on their phones or on the internet."

Cindy Huang, 69, also ended up in Victoria Park after several failed attempts to vote online.

"The poll is the very last chance for Hongkongers. If we remain silent, we will have no way to go but to let Beijing have full control of our fate," she said.

Regardless of their vote in yesterday's "referendum", most people in the queue admitted they were not confident that universal suffrage could be implemented in the city by 2017 to allow Hongkongers to choose their leader via a fair system.

"Everything in Hong Kong - including policies and constitutional development - is in the hands of Beijing now. Where is the 'one country, two systems' promised to us?" asked one woman. "I am here for our next generation. I want to tell Beijing we want the 'two systems' back."

Movement co-organiser Dr Chan Kin-man was surprised by the queue in the park in the early afternoon. "[The turnout] is way beyond our expectation," he said.

Chan said: "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."

He added: "Even if many people abstained [from answering any of the questions] it could be suggesting that more discussions are needed for that question."

Despite participants' enthusiasm, few Hongkongers seemed to be aware of yesterday's exercise. And some of those who did know said they had lost faith in the prospect of Beijing granting Hong Kong genuine democracy so chose not to take part.

The civil referendum was a "show" that would have no actual impact on the city's political development, said Kenneth Kwok, a retired university employee who voted for pan-democrat candidates in previous elections.

"Beijing alone has the final say, not Hongkongers," the 65-year-old said.

Academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting, another Occupy Central organiser, said the poll was not designed to reflect all Hongkongers' opinions since it could only gauge the views of those who voted.

"We want to test the capability of the system this time - and we will analyse the data collected afterwards," he said.

He said the exercise used an "honesty system" as the organisers did not have the ability to cross-check whether all voters were over 18.

Chan, his fellow organiser, said the polling system was designed to prevent the same identity card number from being used repeatedly, but he wasn't sure whether someone could cheat by using a fake number.

"In fact this is a loophole. It is difficult [to spot someone] using someone else's identity card in the voting [by internet], but in our ballot station we can supervise carefully," he told Commercial Radio.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung



Miss Chan, 67, retired

"The referendum offers a way for Hongkongers to realise their core values - not just through slogans but actions. I am quite pessimistic about the constitutional development of Hong Kong, but if we never try, we will never succeed."

Ho Yin-kwan, 67, retired

"I travelled all the way from Mui Wo to Victoria Park to cast my vote. My hairs have turned grey - I don't think I have the chance to witness universal suffrage but I hope our next generation does. Without universal suffrage, Hong Kong would be hopeless."

Man Ching-man, a construction industry businessman in his 60s

"Most Hongkongers are against this fake civil referendum. We won't vote otherwise it will boost the so-called 'legitimacy' of the poll."

Jovel Lam, 18, university student

"This is my first protest. Universal suffrage is the only way we can have a chief executive that is representative of all citizens in Hong Kong. Our society is beginning to realise civic nomination for chief executive candidates is the only way for this to happen."

Chan Sin-yau

"I walked all the way from Sheung Wan to Victoria Park carrying this placard to attend today's march. I think Hong Kong is the vanguard of bringing democracy to the rest of China. I support civic nomination but in the end, whatever the method, it should lead to universal suffrage."

Yim Ka-yee, former HKTV production assistant

"Leung Chun-ying's refusal to issue a licence to HKTV has shown that a chief executive who is not elected by citizens can do whatever he wants even when it is against public opinion. I hope the public will have the right to nominate chief executive candidates."

Clarence Tse, 23, student

"Leung Chun-ying's government has failed to address the problem of high property prices. So far, the housing policies he has put forward have not assured me. Also, I support genuine universal suffrage which allows civic nomination."

Riggs Chan, 40, medical worker

"I had never thought about moving away from Hong Kong but first thought about it last year because the government seemed not to listen to us any more.

Ho Hung-wai, a driver in his fifties

"Hong Kong has always been a peaceful place but recent developments make me worried that the city will turn into another Egypt or Thailand, and that's why I showed up today to support the government."

Yuen Man-huen, 66, salesperson

"I'm a Hongkonger. That's why I came today. We need genuine universal suffrage for Hong Kong to develop."