Occupy Central poll leaves moderate democrats no room to manoeuvre, say advisers

Unofficial Occupy poll leaves moderate democrats no room to manoeuvre with Beijing, say advisers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Mainland academics who advise Beijing on Hong Kong affairs do not think there is any chance of reaching a consensus on the 2017 chief executive election in the wake of the unofficial referendum on political reform.

Qi Pengfei, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the huge turnout for the exercise organised by Occupy Central reflected the fact most people wanted to achieve universal suffrage in 2017.

After counting 7,025 paper votes cast at polling stations, the three-track proposal put forward by the Alliance for True Democracy secured 333,962 votes, or 42.1 per cent of the 792,808 valid ballots cast during the 10-day exercise that ended on Sunday.

The alliance comprised 26 of the 27 pan-democratic lawmakers, until some quit yesterday.

A blueprint put forward by Scholarism and the Federation of Students attracted 304,319 votes, followed by People Power's proposal, with 82,003.

Under the alliance's proposal, the public, political parties and nominating committee would nominate candidates. But it remains vague on the details of how this would be achieved.

Qi said he feared the room for moderate democrats to negotiate with Beijing would shrink in light of the alliance's victory.

"Moderate pan-democrats and their supporters will be hijacked by radical pan-democrats," he said.

The radical camp insists on public nomination. The other camp consists of the Democratic Party and Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who consider it more important that electoral reforms do not "screen out" dissenting voices.

The Democrats, who talked to Beijing in 2010 about the 2012 elections, decided last month not to take part in the alliance's meetings after the public vote.

Qi and Jiang Shigong, deputy director of Peking University's Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Beijing found the alliance's proposal unacceptable even though the nominating committee would be one of the channels for naming chief executive candidates.

"Given the increasingly polarised political atmosphere, I'm afraid the Democratic Party will find it difficult to engage in talks with the central government again on political reform," Qi said.

Tong said yesterday he would stop promoting his moderate proposal in light of the vote.

He said Anson Chan Fang On-sang, the convenor of Hong Kong 2020 and a former chief secretary, also should give up her group's reform plan, which also omits public nomination.

"She called on Hongkongers to participate in the poll and I believe she foresaw the outcome," he said. "I can't see how she can continue to push for her plan now."

Chan said there was no longer room for moderates to push their middle-ground reform plans.

"The referendum results - overwhelming support for public nomination - are something the pan-democrats fought for. I don't think any responsible political parties can easily give that up," he said. "There's no way for us."

Meanwhile, a survey by Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies found 43.6 per cent of 813 people interviewed from June 23 to Thursday said they distrusted the central government, up 5.2 points from a similar poll in May.

The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.44 points.

Accurately counting the number of July 1 marchers can be a tricky task

Counting the number of people in the July 1 protest march can be as politically sensitive as the annual march itself, says a statistician at the University of Hong Kong who was attacked by the organiser for "low-balling" the turnout in 2011.

"It is understandable that the organisers would like to inflate the figure so that they can claim popular support. That is politics. And I have no problem with them playing politics. But they have to be honest, rather than disguising it as statistics," Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai said.

Today he will again lead a team of 10 to try to measure the size of the crowd at this year's march. He and his university colleague, pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, will deploy their research teams to various locations along the protest route to count the crowds.

Chung's team, as usual, will employ a "flow rate" method which tries to physically count the numbers that pass a given point - a footbridge in Admiralty - during the march.

Yip counts the crowd at two points. At the second point, he also surveys the people passing by, asking them if they walked past the first point. In that way, he says, he can minimise the problem of double counting.

Police will do an estimate based on how crowded the protest area appeared.

March organiser the Civil Human Rights Front - whose counts are usually the highest - says it will position volunteers at different points along the protest route and average their counts.

In 2011 - when he came under fire for criticising the front's method as not "scientific" - Yip's team estimated 60,000 to 70,000 marchers, the police said 54,000 and the front claimed 218,000.

Yip said that would mean 1,000 people passed through a place in a minute, which was highly unlikely. He said yesterday that there were many ways to count a crowd, none of them perfect. "But when challenged, you need to produce data to substantiate your conclusion."

In 2004, the newspaper Ming Pao took high-resolution aerial photographs to measure attendance at the July 1 march, then broke them into smaller zones to make counting more precise.

It estimated 260,000 - exceeding figures from Chung and the police, whose estimates were both about 200,000. But it fell far short of the 530,000 claimed by the organiser.

The discrepancy sparked a public debate. After a review, Ming Pao conceded there had been double counting and revised its estimate to about 192,000.

The convenor of the front at the time, Jackie Hung Ling-yu, said its figure was based on the number estimated to be able to be accommodated if the entire protest route was full and the time it took to finish the march. The method was later revised.

Ng Kang-chung