Skip to main content

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

July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0129 GMT (0929 HKT)
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
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT)
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 0812 GMT (1612 HKT)
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT