Controversial issues like national security legislation, political reform and the government’s plan to develop the north-east New Territories could all be put up for public vote under a joint project by two universities.
The Civil Referendum Project, run by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong and the Centre for Social Policy Studies of the Polytechnic University, was launched on Wednesday.
It came 10 months after some 220,000 people turned out in March for the Public Opinion Programme’s public vote to pick their ideal chief executive in advance of the real election and in the absence of universal suffrage.
Programme director Robert Chung Ting-yiu said they welcomed any submissions on the topics for a civil referendum by groups or political leaders. Applicants whose projects were picked would have to bear all operational costs of the vote.
“We will not consider the political background of the group when vetting applications and will kick start our voting system if we find the topic appropriate,” Chung said, adding that the project would not conduct a vote on “trivial matters”.
“It will concern issues of major public interest in society like the Article 23 legislation,” he said, referring to the Basic Law provision that requires Hong Kong to pass a national security law.
Electoral reform for the 2016 Legislative Council and 2017 chief executive elections as well as the government’s plan for a new town in the north-east New Territories could fall within the scope of the plan, Chung said.
But he said his project would not initiate any civil referendum until applicants put forth proposals.
Asked if they feared the project could anger Beijing, Chung said: “We will just do our work and won’t consider whether there could be huge political pressure on us.”
Chung ruled out the possibility of conducting a vote on Hong Kong independence, saying it did not involve major public interest, nor was it practical.
He added that the project was needed as the SAR lacked a statutory referendum system.
The programme is also seeking funds to improve its electronic voting system after it was disrupted by hackers during the March referendum.
Information technology manager Jazz Ma said it aimed to raise HK$800,000.
The civil referendums it holds will mainly be electronic-based and paper ballots will be supplementary.
Meanwhile activists have launched a Chinese-language book Hong Kong My Home Ground to commemorate the public vote in March. It has been on sale in major bookstores since last week.