Newspaper article International New York Times

Beijing Assails Hong Kong Referendum ; Officials Call Vote 'Illegal'; Organizers Say More Than 300,000 Have Taken Part

Newspaper article International New York Times

Beijing Assails Hong Kong Referendum ; Officials Call Vote 'Illegal'; Organizers Say More Than 300,000 Have Taken Part

Article excerpt

More than 300,000 residents of Hong Kong participated in a unofficial free vote over their political future. The vote was called "illegal" by China.

More than 300,000 residents of Hong Kong did something on Friday that no one in mainland China can do: They participated in a free vote over their political future. The Chinese government promptly responded by denouncing the entire exercise in bottom-up democracy as "illegal and invalid."

The results are nonbinding because the poll is not official: It is a referendum held by a civic group on how the 7.2 million people in Hong Kong, a former British colony, will elect their head of government. The voting on Friday was through computers and mobile phones, with organizers saying they would have been pleased if 100,000 people had cast ballots over the entire 10-day voting period, which ends June 29.

Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-approved chief executive, said on Friday that none of the three proposals on the ballot, organized by the group Occupy Central with Love and Peace, complied with Hong Kong's Basic Law, the rules that have governed the territory since China reclaimed sovereignty in 1997. Those rules give its people civil liberties like freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, rights that are routinely denied in the rest of China.

The referendum's organizers have vowed to disrupt the city's central business district later this year with a sit-in protest, called Occupy Central, drawing on civil disobedience principles -- Henry David Thoreau is often invoked -- should the central government in Beijing and Hong Kong's administration fail to come up with a plan for universal suffrage, promised by 2017, that meets international standards for free and fair elections. Mr. Leung, who took office in 2012, was chosen by a group of fewer than 1,200 Hong Kong residents.

Voters are being asked to choose among three plans that offer varying methods on how candidates for chief executive can be nominated. All allow candidates to make it on to the ballot by collecting signatures. That sidesteps Beijing's efforts at screening candidates to ensure only people seen as acceptable to the central government appear on the ballot. Beijing must formally appoint any chief executive elected in Hong Kong before he or she can take office.

Mainland Chinese media and pro-mainland Hong Kong newspapers have accused Occupy Central's organizers of risking the stability and economic health of the city. On Friday, a representative for the Chinese government denounced the unofficial referendum, reported Xinhua, the official news agency.

"Any form of so-called 'referendum' held in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region that lacks a constitutional legal basis is illegal and invalid," said the unidentified representative for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, the Chinese government's equivalent of a cabinet. …

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