Leung Kwok-hung (C), chairman of the League of Social Democrats, protests against China's National Day celebrations in Hong Kong, Oct. 1, 2016. Credit: AFP Hotly contested election
Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong have launched an online nominations website for candidates in forthcoming elections for the city's top job, in a bid to get around the lack of public involvement in the poll.
The new "civil referendum" website gives the city's seven million residents—most of whom won't have a say in who their next leader is—the chance to nominate their preferred candidates alongside the official nominations process.
Users can nominate from among 12 public figures including Beijing's favorite and former second-in-command Carrie Lam, as well as less well-known names, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
In the actual poll, only members of a 1,200 pro-Beijing Election Committee will get to cast a vote, and media reports say Beijing has made it clear that Lam has been picked as the preferred candidate of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
The referendum site is being run by HKU Public Opinion Programme and the Polytechnic University’s Centre for Social Policy Studies, backed by legal scholar Benny Tai, who initiated the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
Pan-democratic groups are represented on the committee, and could theoretically use their 300 seats to nominate one or two candidates who receive more than the one-percent threshold of 37,790 votes via the referendum site.
Not enough backers yet
But official nominations can only be made with the backing of at least 150 members of the committee, and not enough members have openly backed the plan yet.
Even if a publicly nominated candidate makes it into the race, they are unlikely to win enough votes to get the job, given that the Election Committee is strongly weighted in Beijing's favor.
Anyone garnering the backing of one percent of total eligible voters will enter a mock public election in March, providing a snapshot of how the public might have voted if they had been given the chance.
Veteran social activist and pan-democratic lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair" on Wednesday announced his intention to run for chief executive.
Leung, who is was elected to the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) for the League of Social Democrats party, hit out at the current election arrangements, saying he will seek official nomination if he garners enough votes on the referendum website.
The pan-democrats on the Election Committee have yet to use their votes as a bloc, however, despite of calls by Benny Tai that they should back a candidate who promises to withdraw attempts to remove four pan-democrats from LegCo amid an ongoing row over their swearing-in ceremonies.
"I don't think the pan-democrats should support any of the four current candidates," Leung told reporters. "The reason for this is that not one of them represents the [views of] pan-democrat committee members."
"I am putting myself forward because it's the quickest way to ensure that there is a candidate for everyone," he said.
He said the pan-democrats haven't had a chief executive candidate to vote for in the 19 years since the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
"I think we should avoid that happening again," Leung said. "I don't think I'm necessarily the best person to represent the pan-democrats, but I'm coming forward because there isn't anyone else."
He said Benny Tai's innovation could at least get around the lack of public nominations, and have some impact on a "closed-circuit" election.
Lawmaker and pan-democratic Election Committee member Kenneth Leung said he is in favor of a hotly contested election.
"We respect Leung Kwok-hung's desire to take part in the election, and we want to see a competitive election for the chief executive," he told reporters.
"We don't want anyone to be able to control it," he said.
But he admitted that there is currently no unified voting strategy among the 300 pan-democrats on the committee.
But Leung Kwok-hung was criticized for not discussing his bid for nomination with other pan-democrats in advance.
Veteran pan-democratic lawmaker James To said many in Hong Kong fear that Carrie Lam will simply be another version of incumbent Leung Chun-ying, who won't seek a second term in office.
"Right now we are worried, and we have seen that many local people are worried, that we will just see a continuation of the bureaucratic lineage with Leung Chun-ying 2.0," To said.
"This issue doesn't seem to be a worry for LegCo member Leung, and he doesn't seem to have thought through whether standing as a candidate would make prevent it from happening, or make it more likely to happen," he said.
Retired judge and chief executive candidate Woo Kwok-hing, however, said he saw Leung's bid as divisive.
"The more political opinions there are on offer, the more it will contribute to divisions in society," Woo told reporters.
"I don't want to see further divisions in Hong Kong society; I would like to heal those divisions and make it harmonious," he said, using a term frequently employed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to silence dissent and criticism.
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