HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s leader hit back on Tuesday at Chinese media criticism of an unofficial democracy poll in the city, softening his previous stance on the ballot after more than 700,000 people voted.
The turnout for the informal referendum has gone far beyond organizers’ expectations, as fears grow that Beijing will backtrack on its promise to allow Hong Kong’s voters to choose the leader they want.
Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that voters had “expressed their hopes and demands” for elections of the city’s leader in 2017.
He hit back at an editorial in China’s state-run Global Times newspaper condemning the poll as “an illegal farce” and saying that China’s massive 1.3 billion population outweighed opinions in Hong Kong.
“Global Times yesterday came out with a piece, headlined: ‘However many involved in illegal referendum, it can’t match 1.3 billion’—I don’t agree with that,” Leung said.
“Nobody should place Hong Kong people in confrontation with mainland Chinese citizens,” he added.
He also defended voters’ rights to have their say.
“Many of the participating citizens have expressed their hopes and demands for the 2017 chief executive elections,” he told reporters.
As of 1 p.m. (5 a.m. Manila time) on Tuesday, more than 732,000 people had taken part online, via mobile phones and at polling stations.
The informal referendum, organized by pro-democracy activists, sets out three options for choosing the chief executive, all of which include civil nomi–nation of candidates.
Currently the leader is chosen by a pro-Beijing election committee.
Leung’s response contrasted sharply with his initial reaction, which was in line with Beijing’s stance that the referendum proposals go against Hong Kong’s constitution.
“All three options in the ballot are against the Basic Law,” Leung said on Friday, referring to Hong Kong’s constitution, shortly after the 10-day poll opened.
He made no mention of the legality of the proposals on Tuesday.
But when asked by reporters, Leung rebuffed Beijing’s earlier criticisms that holding the referendum was illegal.
“In our language, it [the referendum]does not have any legal basis, but it will not lead to criminal responsibilities,” he said.
“Leung’s remarks demonstrate the fact that the Hong Kong government is politically sand–wiched between Beijing and the people of Hong Kong who demand to select a chief executive through universal suffrage,” Sonny Lo, head of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, told Agence France-Presse.