Weeks after the Occupy Central movement decided to stage the vote on electoral reform, the civil disobedience movement was in a serious crisis.
The group had shortlisted three reform proposals, each one allowing the public to nominate chief executive candidates in 2017. But organisers worried that many would be discouraged from casting ballots because of the narrow range of options.
Dr Chan Kin-man, a co-organiser of the Occupy Central movement, warned on May 28 that the campaign would fail if fewer than 100,000 people voted in the so-called referendum. If such a scenario happened, the organisers said they would publicly apologise and admit that they did not have the ability to lead the campaign.
After weeks of criticism from both the government and some democrats, the movement received an unexpected boost: the State Council on June 10 issued a white paper stating unequivocally its authority over Hong Kong. By midnight, more than 700,000 had voted in the plebiscite, which Beijing has dismissed as a "farce".
Chan said the white paper had driven many to take part in the poll: "Many of them consider the significance of casting ballots goes beyond choosing a reform plan. It's a way to express anger against Beijing's tough stance."
The Occupy Central movement threatens to mobilise 10,000 people to block traffic in the financial hub if the government fails to come up with a proposal for the 2017 chief executive race that meets international standards for democracy. The government is expected to release its election plan this year. Occupy's decision to shortlist the nomination options came from 2,500 people, who attended "Deliberation Day" on May 6.
It instantly sparked criticism from some moderate pan-democratic lawmakers and Hong Kong 2020, an advocacy group founded by former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang.
The joint plan by the activist group Scholarism and the Federation of Students topped the ballot, while those from People Power and the Alliance for True Democracy came second and third. All three proposals include the public nomination of candidates, which Beijing has dismissed as inconsistent with the Basic Law.
The decision to shortlist also alienated moderate pan-democrats, whose proposals were screened out.
Proposals that allow only the official nominating committee to pick candidates, including those from Anson Chan, lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah and 18 academics trailed far behind.
Anson Chan, proponent of one of the more moderate election proposals, said that by failing to give Hongkongers a genuine choice, Occupy's referendum could risk disenfranchising residents who do not want confrontation with Beijing.
The Democratic Party, which has not said public nomination was indispensable, condemned the two radical groups People Power and the League of Social Democrats for reneging on promises to support the proposal put forward by the Alliance for True Democracy.
The Democrats and the two radical groups are members of the grouping formed by pan-democrats. The Democrats decided in the middle of last month not to take part in the alliance's meetings after the public vote ends on Sunday.
In an attempt to boost turnout, Occupy Central added a new question to the ballot early this month. Apart from asking residents to choose among the three proposals or cast a ballot abstaining, voters were asked if the Legislative Council should veto the government's proposal if it did not "satisfy international standards allowing genuine choices by electors".
Ray Yep Kin-man, a professor at City University's Department of Public Policy, said shortly after the decision to narrow down the reform proposals that many people who did not insist on public nomination would not vote in the referendum.
"But many of them changed their minds and cast ballots after Beijing issued the white paper," he said. "They are worried that Beijing intends to undermine the autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong since handover."