Hong Kong Basic Law

Mini-referendum organisers add new vote question to increase public's interest

Voters will be asked whether lawmakers should block an unacceptable reform proposal as organisers move to address credibility worries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 2:25pm

Occupy Central organisers last night added an extra question to their unofficial "referendum" next month in an effort to boost turnout and stave off accusations by moderate pan-democrats that the poll would lack credibility.

Co-organiser Dr Chan Kin-man could not confirm the wording of the question last night, but said it would "let citizens express their demand on genuine universal suffrage".

The question will focus on whether voters believe lawmakers should reject any plan for the 2017 chief executive election that does not meet international standards for democracy and that does not guarantee a choice of candidates. The wording will be confirmed tomorrow after organisers discuss it with University of Hong Kong pollsters, who are providing technical support for the June 20-22 poll.

"There are positive or negative ways to put it," Chan explained. "If the 'negative' [word] - 'veto' is used, it would be a challenge to those officials who say that Hongkongers should accept an [imperfect] reform package."

The main purpose of the vote was to allow all registered voters to choose between different models for the 2017 poll. But organisers came under fire after activists shortlisted three models under which the public could nominate candidates. Moderate pan-democrats say that disenfranchised voters wanted to avoid confrontation with Beijing, which says public nomination is against the Basic Law.

Chan said the extra question would give Hongkongers a "bigger incentive" to vote.

The move followed a call from a group of pan-democratic lawmakers, who on Sunday urged all Hongkongers to take part in the poll, even if they did not agree with the shortlisted models. They say a high turnout will send a message to Beijing: that Hong Kong wants a "truly democratic" election when the public picks the city's leader for the first time.

One member of the group, lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, found overwhelming support for public nomination when he held a "mini-referendum" in his New Territories West constituency.

The Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre gathered views from 2,677 people in Kwai Chung and Tin Shui Wai between Thursday and Sunday on public nomination, and 95 per cent supported the idea.

Leung acknowledged yesterday that his research was not as scientific as a survey, but said "voters" would have to make a conscious effort to express their views by approaching the volunteers who were collecting votes.

He also rejected suggestions the poll should have included questions on the role of the nominating committee, the body specified in the Basic Law to choose candidates.

"If it's complicated, the people may not [understand] it and the poll could be meaningless," he said.

The question of how to choose candidates in 2017 is threatening to derail hopes for reform. Pan-democrats fear the nominating committee, which is likely to be stacked with Beijing loyalists, will filter out critical candidates before the public has its say. But Beijing is adamant that the mini-constitution does not allow public nomination.

The government is expected to launch a second round of consultation later this year. Its reform plan will need a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council - meaning some pan-democrats must back it - and the approval of the central government.