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Nearly 800,000 vote in unofficial Hong Kong referendum

Vote on democratic process termed a 'farce' by Beijing

Nearly 800,000 vote in unofficial Hong Kong referendum

Organizers of the vote say they want the public to be given the chance to nominate candidates to lead Hong Kong (AFP Photo/Dale de la Rey)

Published: June 30, 2014 06:37 AM GMT

Updated: June 29, 2014 08:24 PM GMT

More than 780,000 people in Hong Kong have voted in an unofficial referendum on greater democratic freedoms in a vote seen as a direct challenge to authority in Beijing.

Polls closed on Sunday after 10 days as voters were given the choice of three different options which would allow people to nominate candidates when direct elections for the city’s leaders are introduced in 2017.

“The result is encouraging. People have tried their best to show their aspiration for democracy and to fight to safeguard their fundamental political rights,” said Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convener of the Alliance for True Democracy which backed the vote.

Beijing has said it will draw up the list of potential leaders when reforms begin in three years, but critics of the proposed system say the Communist Party will hand pick candidates.

This prompted democracy groups to set up the referendum which was not recognized by authorities. The Chinese government has called the polls “a farce”.

Of those that voted – roughly 10 percent of Hong Kong’s population – 88 percent said the city’s parliament, the Legislative Council, should veto reforms scheduled by Beijing.

Among the three proposals put forward by civil society groups, the most popular option proposes that the public, political parties and the nomination committee should together draw up a list of candidates ahead of the first direct elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, a vocal supporter of the referendum, said results showed people wanted genuine democracy in Hong Kong.

“But the government may not accept any of the three proposals in the end or may just back off a bit,” said Zen who led 200 supporters on a seven-day march around Hong Kong earlier this month to promote the referendum.

Government Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said that the poll “is one of the ways for Hong Kong citizens to express their opinions”. A government spokesman maintained the referendum had no legal basis.

Occupy Central, the democracy group which organized the vote, said it was pleased with the turnout after stating it would be happy if 100,000 people took part. It has promised a new round of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong this summer if Beijing maintains its plan for selecting candidates.

The Chinese government has shown no signs of changing its position. A government white paper issued two weeks ago emphasized Beijing’s total control of Hong Kong and was seen as a spark for the referendum, with democracy groups claiming the Communist Party had failed to allow Hong Kong 50 years of autonomy as agreed when Great Britain handed the territory back in 1997.

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