A Hong Kong polling institute has come under fire from the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper for its “anti-China” opinion surveys on the upcoming legislative polls. Despite the attack – the latest in a series from pro-Beijing forces – the institute said it would release the results of its latest survey later on Friday.

People's Daily
People’s Daily, November 1, 2019. File Photo: Screenshot.

The People’s Daily in an editorial on Thursday said the poll results cited by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) “insinuate that the public’s desire to vote in this Legislative Council election is low. It attempts to use so-called ‘public opinion’ to hijack society,” the article read.

“Peddling the ‘poll’ as a gimmick and using academic research as a cover for incitement, PORI thought it could deceive the public and lead them into their trap.”

PORI has in the past month conducted rolling polls in the lead-up to the December 19 election to gauge Hongkongers’ voting preferences. The latest survey found 36 per cent of respondents “probably” or “definitely” would not vote, an increase of three percentage points compared to a poll two weeks ago.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The People’s Daily accused PORI of manipulating survey samples and setting arbitrary statistical standards. “The manipulated ‘polls’ has no ‘public opinion’ to speak of. One can simply laugh it off when it comes to data published by PORI,” it said.

‘To be held accountable’

“Other than smearing the new electoral system in Hong Kong, [the institute’s aim] was to undermine the LegCo election’s authority and credibility and using ‘public opinion’ to hold people hostage,” the paper said.

“[It is] trying to put pressure on people who selected ‘definitely will vote’, and limit the freedom of those wishing to exercise their lawful right in a democracy,” the article said.

“Its intent is questionable, it should be held accountable for its actions.”

The paper said PORI’s “so-called ‘polls’ are something that align with forces that are ‘anti China and disrupting Hong Kong.’ It is time to clean it up and ring funeral bells for it.”

鍾劍華 chung kim wah the stand news
PORI deputy executive director Chung Kim-Wah. File Photo: Stand News.

Chung Kim-wah, PORI’s deputy executive director, told HKFP it would release the latest poll results on Friday afternoon as scheduled.

“Simply speaking, [the accusations] that we manipulated the poll are nonsense. It’s pinning accusations [on us] as if it were the Cultural Revolution,” Chung said. “We never manipulate samples. In contrast, pro-establishment pollsters would poll on WeChat or use confidential sampling methods. This really is double standards.”

“To say that we coerce the public using public opinion survey, I think is extremely exaggerated. Anyone in their reasonable mind will know this is extremely overstated and is an unfounded accusation. It would be nice if we could do it,” Chung said to reporters after PORI released its latest survey results on Friday. “We don’t expect officials to follow public opinion for everything… The key is that a capable government would respond to public opinion.”

The LegCo election will be the first since Beijing overhauled the city’s electoral system to ensure only “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move sharply reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates.

With mainstream pro-democracy parties sitting out the vote, authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have gone to considerable lengths to encourage a strong voter turnout. In an unusual direct appeal, a senior Beijing official Xia Baolong this week urged the city’s electors to go to the polls. Half a dozen Hong Kong officials followed suit afterwards.

Hong Kong has criminalised calls for blank votes and obstruction of voters.

Legislative Council election 2021 nomination
Publicity materials for the 2021 Legislative Council election nomination period outside the government headquarters in Admiralty. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Six people have been arrested for sharing a social media post by former democrat and lawmaker Ted Hui which called on voters to cast blank ballots. Hui fled Hong Kong last December and is now living in Australia.

The Hong Kong government has said the political overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes prompted international condemnation, as they make it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

Despite the official efforts to boost turnout – including an advertising blitz and the opening of border polling stations – Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam this week dismissed concerns over a possible low turnout during an interview with China’s state-run Global Times, saying such a scenario may mean people are satisfied with the government.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.