BEIJING – A state-run Chinese newspaper on Monday slammed Hong Kong’s unofficial referendum on democratic reform — which has drawn more than 700,000 votes — as an “illegal farce” that was “tinged with mincing ludicrousness.”
The poll, which opened Friday, comes as tensions grow in the former British colony over the future of its electoral system, with increasingly vocal calls from residents to be able to choose who can run for the post of chief executive.
But the Global Times daily, which is linked to China’s ruling Communist Party, accused the pro-democracy advocates who organized the referendum of being politically influenced by the West. It said “overseas supporters have overestimated the effect of an illegal farce.”
China’s entire population of 1.3 billion people had a right to weigh in on Hong Kong’s future, it added.
“Neither China’s central government nor the Hong Kong government will admit the results of the poll,” it said.
“It would be ridiculous to determine the direction of Hong Kong’s political reform with this informal referendum.”
The organizers’ use of electronic voting was “tinged with mincing ludicrousness,” said the paper, which often takes a nationalist tone, in a typically colorful English editorial.
Beijing faces continuing tensions in Buddhist-majority Tibet and mainly Muslim Xinjiang, and the paper offered a possible clue to its wider concerns: “The country would fall into tumult if all regions conducted similar referendums.”
The Chinese version of the editorial was more vehement, reminding the organizers that “the state defeated the Iron Lady’s administration and took back Hong Kong,” referring to negotiations between then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and China’s paramount leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, in the early 1980s.
“The opposition in Hong Kong should not have the delusion that they could, by organizing a street farce, achieve what London at the time was not able to do despite making every effort possible,” it said.
No reference to the former British administration was included in the article’s English version.
The paper accused organizers of having a “gambling mentality,” saying that Beijing will “never compromise on sovereignty-related issues.”
“The simplest reason is that the Basic Law reflects the will of the whole nation as well, and therefore more than 1.3 billion people have the right to speak on Hong Kong’s political reform,” it said, referring to Hong Kong’s charter.
Hong Kong’s leader is currently appointed by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee. China has promised direct elections for the next chief executive in 2017, but has ruled out allowing voters to choose which candidates can run.
Although the unofficial referendum has no legal standing, activists hope that a high turnout will bolster the case for reform.
The poll allows residents to choose between three options on how the 2017 chief executive ballot should be carried out — each of which would allow voters to choose candidates for the top job, and all therefore considered unacceptable by Beijing.
China’s State Council, the equivalent of its cabinet, said Friday that any referendum on how Hong Kong elects its leader would be “illegal and invalid.”
But participation since voting began online Friday has beaten all expectations — despite a major cyberattack that the organizers have blamed on Beijing.
The more than 700,000 who had voted both online and at polling booths as of Monday morning represent a sizable proportion of the 3.47 million who registered to vote at elections in 2012.