Skip to main content

After almost 800,000 Occupy Central 'votes,' Hong Kong readies for massive protest

updated 9:29 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Unofficial referendum on Hong Kong's political future draws almost 800,000 votes
  • Results were announced just before the anniversary of the 1997 handover of power, traditionally a big day for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong
  • Hong Kongers angered by what they perceive to be Beijing's undue influence over their political destiny

Hong Kong (CNN) -- July 1, 2014, the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule, is set to be a hot, possibly stormy day.

But the suffocating weather won't stop pro-democracy Hong Kongers -- possibly hundreds of thousands of them -- from filling the streets, beginning at 3 p.m today. Activists are openly challenging China's vision for the city's political future, and they believe the public is on their side.

In a recent unofficial referendum organized by pro-democracy activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP), 787,767 Hong Kongers voted in support of free elections for the city's next leader.

READ MORE: Hong Kong's 'referendum' -- What you should know

The almost-800,000 figure represents about 22% of registered voters in Hong Kong, out of a total of 3.5 million registered voters, according to government figures. Before the vote began ten days ago, organizers were hoping around 100,000 people would participate.

Hong Kong's democratic referendum
China's warning to Hong Kong

Benny Tai, a co-organiser of OCLP, said Hong Kongers were "using this opportunity to at least show Beijing how determined we are for universal suffrage."

Hong Kong's former second-highest-ranked official, Anson Chan, echoed the sentiment in an interview with CNN on Monday.

"Whatever Beijing says in public now I think it can hardly afford to ignore the voices of 780,000 people."

But the Chinese government's reaction was decidedly more frosty, with the government declaring the poll "illegal" and its results "invalid" even before the ballots were counted.

Rimsky Yuen, Hong Kong's Secretary for Justice, has previously said there is no legal basis for the vote.

Yuen, as well a number of other, pro-establishment voices, declined to speak to CNN.

A recent Chinese state media editorial said the poll was a "farce." Searches for the referendum have also been heavily censored on the Chinese internet.

Showdown over democracy

The city's pro-democracy camp wants fully democratic elections for the city's next leader, while China insists it will only allow elections in which it gets to approve the nominees. Specifically, Beijing says it will only allow candidates who "love China."

The Occupy Central referendum outlined three plans to reform the upcoming election. All three plans proposed that candidates be nominated publicly, regardless of whether the candidates have Beijing's blessing.

42% of participants picked a proposal by the Alliance for True Democracy, which said candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive should be nominated by the public, and conditions such as requiring candidates to "love China" should not be allowed.

We will only resort to the civil disobedience action as our last resort.
Benny Tai, Occupy Central founder

Another question asked if Hong Kong's legislature should veto any nomination process that did not meet "international standards." This was overwhelmingly approved in the referendum.

The high numbers are a sign that Hong Kongers are not about to back down, said Tai.

"We have an offer and we have a baseline, and this is the thing we will give to the (Hong Kong government)," he told CNN. "I think a responsible government must respond to that. I cannot see any reason for refusing to meet with us."

But if negotiations fail, and no progress is made through legal means, then the group is prepared to disrupt the city to make their statement heard. As a final strategy, Tai says his group may marshal 10,000 people to sit and peacefully block traffic in downtown Hong Kong as a way to pressure Beijing into allowing Hong Kong to exercise "genuine universal suffrage."

"We will only resort to the civil disobedience action as our last resort," said Tai. "Only after exhausting all the legal means and still fail to achieve our goals will we resort to civil disobedience."

Grassroots support

The city is politicized like at no other time in its recent past. While the July 1st anniversary of the handover has always brought demonstrators out onto Hong Kong's hot, crowded streets, often numbering over 100,000, this year protests are expected to be super-sized.

Many Hong Kongers are enraged after the recent publication of a white paper by the Chinese government which declares Beijing's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong.

READ MORE: Alarm in Hong Kong at Chinese white paper affirming Beijing control

Chan said the white paper violates the "one country, two systems" principle enshrined in Hong Kong's constitutional Basic Law, which lets the city maintain high autonomy despite being a part of China.

The white paper "makes it quite clear that whatever autonomy we enjoy is for the central government to give and to take away at its pleasure," she said. "I think this has caused real concern."

The inflammatory document came days after 100,000 people showed up to an annual candlelit vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

"(The white paper) has spectacularly backfired, it's made people even more angry," Chan said.

What's next?

The situation in Hong Kong is volatile. Some activists fear a crackdown on freedoms by the Chinese central government, and others look nervously to the possibility of unrest at tomorrow's mass protest.

Michael DeGolyer, Director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, an independent organization that monitors governance in the territory, said the future is incredibly difficult to assess because no one is totally sure what China's officials are thinking.

"We're in a situation where we have a new regime in power and much more volatile circumstances, and we have groups that are much more separatist, challenging the legitimacy of the central government altogether," he said.

"In these circumstances, it is extremely difficult to tell what the central government intends and what they're thinking and how they'll react."

But despite the uncertainty, Hong Kong's democracy supporters remain hopeful.

"I do not think Beijing has made up its mind on universal suffrage, so let's see what happens in the months ahead," said Chan.

"The government stance has a little bit softened in the last few days. There's a chance there," said Tai. "After (the July 1 protest), we may be able to see whether there's any change in the stance of the Chinese government."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT