A cyberattack on a website organised to measure support for universal suffrage threatens to derail an unofficial referendum on democratic reform, a founder of Occupy Central said on Tuesday.
The popvote.hk  website was designed by the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University to gauge support for Occupy Central’s push for universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive in 2017.
The website had received “billions of visits” in the run-up to the vote that starts on Friday, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Occupy Central founder and associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, said.
Such moves are known in computing as distributed denial-of-service attacks, which aim to overwhelm a website with requests so regular visitors can’t reach it.
“We are considering, if the online system does not work as planned, we may extend the voting time so that we can get as many votes as possible, as planned. We had hoped to get around 200,000 votes, even 300,000,” Tai said.
“Nothing will deter us from going on. We will continue.”
Voters will be able to cast ballots at 15 voting stations throughout the city on Sunday if the website is down. Access to the site was intermittent on Tuesday afternoon.
After a decade of delays, Beijing allowed Hong Kong to go ahead with a popular vote for the city’s top leader in 2017, in what is set to be the most far-reaching experiment of democracy in China since the Communist takeover in 1949.
But senior central government officials have already ruled out the possibility of allowing the public to nominate candidates, insisting instead that a small committee of 1,200 largely pro-Beijing loyalists choose who gets on the ballot, which would effectively render the ability to vote moot.
The central government has also warned that only candidates who “love China and Hong Kong” can be nominated. The phrase is understood by the pro-democracy camp to include only those who will take orders from Beijing.
Occupy Central plans to rally protesters to blockade Central district if the government does not come up with a satisfactory plan to implement universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive in 2017. The blockade was originally supposed to occur in summer this year but is now expected later.
Organisers are waiting to see the outcome of the online referendum, which ends on Sunday, to decide how to proceed.