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One country, two systems, 700,000 votes

Man holding sign
Man holding sign

After a Hong Kong referendum gauging public support for a popularly elected leader drew over 700,000 votes in four days, mainland authorities “made no secret of their disdain for the campaign,” calling it “ridiculous” and “illegal” to let citizens decide their own political fate. The Chinese government has promised that Hong Kong’s next leader can be selected through universal suffrage, but only if that leader has been pre-approved by Beijing. Only candidates who “love China” are eligible to run in 2017.

"The high turnout reflects the strong desire of Hong Kong people to have true democracy, not a kind of democracy with Chinese characteristics," said Benny Tai of Occupy Central, the protest movement behind the referendum. "It can't be enforced in court, sure, but it's not unlawful."

The poll was conducted online through the website, as well as at a number of in-person polling stations scattered throughout the city. The website weathered “a series of cyberattacks” over the weekend, attracting “roughly the amount of traffic in one second that Google's global search engine gets in an hour.” Occupy Central encountered additional resistance in the form of various editorials and public statements. The Global Times, a publication tied to the official party newspaper People’s Daily, suggested the voting seemed "like a joke where it is highly possible to cheat. Who knows how many votes were fabricated?"

The tension comes just days after a Beijing white paper questioned Hong Kong’s political autonomy and patriotism to China. The 1984 Sino-British declaration that made Hong Kong a semi-autonomous region of China allows the island to “maintain its capitalist system for a period of 50 years until 2047,” but recent events show that the law is far from being closed to interpretation.