With 65,000 mock votes from a target of one million, does Hong Kong even care about its leadership election?

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok has asked the organisers of a mock chief executive poll to review the low turnout to better gauge public opinion in future
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The public’s sense of powerlessness and privacy concerns might explain the low turnout for the mock chief executive election poll, according to the organisers and a pan-democrat lawmaker.

The remarks came after just 65,000 people voted in the mock ballot that opened on March 10 and ended on Sunday, well short of the organisers’ target of one million votes.

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IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok said organisers should assess why there was such a low turnout and tackle privacy concerns so the mock vote can become a better tool to gauge public opinion in the future.

After consulting computer experts and other professional organisations, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data issued a second warning on Sunday, saying it had established that the organisers, when collecting voters’ personal data, had breached information security practises.

“(Voters) needed to download an app first, and that has limited its reach of voters. There were also not many street booths. There was much less people using the booths than five years ago,” Mok said on an RTHK programme referring to the last mock ballot in 2012.

“Maybe people have a sense of powerlessness. They felt that they have already very clearly expressed their view and doubted if there was a need (to vote in the mock ballot). The organisers need to review why the turnout was so low this time,” he said.

The ballot was organised by Citizens United in Action, led by Occupy Central founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting. Members of the public were able to cast their votes online or at voting stations. Each voter was asked to select support, oppose or abstain for each of the three chief executive candidates.

Chief executive candidate John Tsang Chun-wah, the popular underdog, was supported by 91.9 per cent of voters, with just 4.2 per cent opposing him. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Beijing’s preferred choice, was backed by just 1.5 per cent of voters with 96.1 per cent opposing her. Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing was supported by 27.1 per cent voters, with 39.4 per cent against him.

Mok said he “understood and agreed” with the concerns expressed by the privacy watchdog. He said voters needed to vote through the Telegram app and so the ballot organisers could not control the security level. Voters had to provide their name, telephone number and identity card number to register on the platform.

The mock chief executive poll in March 2012 attracted far more participants, with a turnout rate of 222,990.

In June 2014, Popvote launched the “622 referendum”, which asked members of the public to select the best political reform proposals. Over 780,000 people participated during the 10-day voting period.

Mok said he was aware that the organisers were all volunteers and there was a lack of resources to organise the ballot. Despite the low turnout, Mok said Hong Kong still needs this platform in the future to gauge public opinions on different matters.

Tai said the low turnout revealed the drastic change in the political sentiment in Hong Kong after the umbrella movement in 2014.

“Some may think it is pointless, as the election result is under Beijing’s tight control.

“Some may also think the election members from the pan-democratic camp have made up their mind and the mock vote would not make a difference,” Tai said.

The pan-democrat camp has 326 votes in the 1,194-member Election Committee. A candidate will need 601 votes to win.

But Tai dismissed the pessimistic view that Hongkongers have already given up hopes for democracy.

“We believe Hong Kong people will step up for democracy if they see a viable opportunity of changing the current situation and overcoming existing difficulties,” he said.

While Tai admitted that the security concerns might also have affected the participation rate, he believed it was not the major reason.

Tai stressed that they were sure the system was safe, with no signs of data being leaked. He said they would further discuss with the commission.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: did apathy or privacy fear cause poll flop?

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