Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Law professor Benny Tai calls for more votes as low turnout mars unofficial referendum

Law professor Benny Tai appealed to the public on Friday to participate in the unofficial referendum on the chief executive election, two days before the campaign is scheduled to end.

Over 42,000 people have joined the poll so far, according to the campaign’s polling website. Tai, one of the poll organisers, said earlier that the project aims at attracting over a million participants.

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Benny Tai. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Tai said at a media session on Friday that the “low turnout” might be explained by a number of factors, such as the shutting of the polling station at the Polytechnic University.

He said people might also be concerned about online security, after some tech experts alleged that the campaign’s previous online platform might have security loopholes. But Tai said the polling website is now safe to use.

Another reason for non-participation may be that some people do not support any of the candidates, Tai said.

“But our poll allows people to indicate opposition against each candidate,” he said. “If many people oppose a candidate, that would show the candidate’s lack of a democratic basis. It would help society campaign against that person in the future.”

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Candidates Carrie Lam (R) and John Tsang (L) are considered “evils” of varying degrees. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Impact of the poll

The professor said the polling exercise would also influence the voting decisions of some Election Committee members, who will be casting their ballots next Sunday.

Among the 325 pro-democracy electors, 48 have promised to be bound by the unofficial referendum results and vote for the most popular candidate. The results will also serve as “key reference” to around 200 electors, Tai added.

“If a lot of people participate, maybe even pro-establishment electors will reference the figures,” he said. “The actual election is very competitive and the candidates could be just a dozen votes apart.”

“But no matter what the turnout is,” Tai added, “we will keep mobilising society and using our collective creativity to promote the democracy movement, until we attain genuine universal suffrage.”

Alleged interference in election

Lawmaker Gary Fan, who also attended Friday’s media session, said participation in the poll would send a message to the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong – that Hongkongers do not welcome their interference in local elections.

Well-known figures such as Lam Wing-kee, former manager of Causeway Bay Books, have also appealed to the public to participate in the poll.

Local media have cited anonymous sources as saying that some top officials in Beijing and the Liaison Office are rallying support for candidate Carrie Lam, and that various figures – including tycoon Li Ka-shing – have agreed to vote for Lam.

The organisers of the unofficial referendum will set up a polling station at the University of Hong Kong student union near the Haking Wong Building this Sunday between 10:30am and 10:30pm.

The small-circle chief executive election is scheduled for March 26. Besides Lam, former finance chief John Tsang and ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing are also in the running.

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Law professor Benny Tai calls for more votes as low turnout mars unofficial referendum