The Polytechnic University has banned the operation of a polling station for the unofficial leadership election civil referendum on its campus.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a University of Hong Kong law professor and one of the organisers of the poll, said Polytechnic University staff told its student union that they had no right to borrow a venue for other organisations. He said they pressured students, saying that “there may be consequences.”

Tai said the organiser decided to cancel the station in order to avoid more unnecessary pressure upon students.

Benny Tai at a street booth promoting the unofficial referendum. Photo: CE Civil Referendum 2017, via Facebook.

Hong Kong residents can indicate in the unofficial poll their position on each of the three chief executive candidates: John Tsang, Carrie Lam and Woo Kwok-hing. The poll also asks participants if they support or oppose the existing model of electing the chief executive.

The public can vote using messaging app Telegram between March 10 and 19. Three polling stations were set up on Sunday at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the University of Hong Kong, and the Polytechnic University.

Explanation sought

Tai said the reason for barring the use of the venue was strange considering that the polling stations at the other two universities were booked by their student unions.

He said in the past similar civil polls have been conducted at the university in a smooth manner: “Why is it problematic this time? The management of the Polytechnic University should explain.”

The organiser then moved the poll to the busy public bridge off-campus.

The student union’s president Mak Chun-kit said the school’s Office of Student Development first met with its representatives and the Chung Kim-wah, the director of the school’s Centre for Social Policy Studies, on Saturday to discuss the details of the booking, reported Apple Daily.

According to Mak, the school’s representative said students may be subjected to disciplinary action if they open the door of the venue for the polling station. Chung decided to stop using the venue in order to avoid punishment.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Photo: PolyU.

The university said the organisers did not notify the school ahead of the event and stated that the student union and its affiliates can only book venues for events serving the university’s students.

It added that it has communicated with the Centre for Social Policy Studies, saying that outside organisations borrowing venues would only be approved if the events were related to teaching and research.

It is the second setback to hit the unofficial poll since its previous phase in February.

The poll acted as a civil nomination platform for the public to nominate chief executive election contenders, but it was suspended after security concerns, before reopening once again using another platform.

As of Monday noon, 24,509 have voted. Of which, 1,022 people voted at the polling stations on Sunday.

The project aims to attract over a million participants.

A fake website of the poll has been found and organisers have made warnings on social media.

Another polling station will be set up at the University of Hong Kong student union near the Haking Wong Building on March 19 between 10:30am and 10:30pm.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.