Thousands will take to the streets this weekend as Hong Kong gears up for its chief executive election on Sunday, with police on standby to handle any violent clashes.
At least seven groups, from the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps, will organise protests over the weekend, according to the police.
The force estimated that between 200 and 500 people from six groups would take part in protests near the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, where the 1,194 members of the Election Committee will cast their ballots on Sunday for the city’s next leader.
Civil Human Rights Front, an alliance of pro-democracy community groups, estimated there would be more than 2,000 people taking part in their marches on Saturday and Sunday.
Police have set up designated protest zones in three areas near the exhibition centre, while public transport services by Expo Drive and Harbour Road will be temporarily suspended in phases starting from Saturday evening.
Security will be tight around the polling station, as well as at Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Wan on the day, sources have told the Post.
Around 1,800 police officers are expected to be on duty, while ferries will also be on standby to escort voters and chief executive candidates from the venue if protests became too chaotic.
Tse Kwok-wai, the force’s senior superintendent of operations on Hong Kong Island, issued a warning to the Civil Human Rights Front, the only group out of the seven that did not seek police permission for the two rallies.
“We have already warned them that if they fail to notify the police of their intention to conduct [any public event], it is against the law,” Tse told a press conference on Friday.
“If [anyone] takes part in what we call a non-notified event, they could be subjected to prosecution. We will take evidence and will consider if we will prosecute those participants,” Tse said.
According to the Public Order Ordinance, groups which intend to hold public meetings of more than 50 people or public processions of more than 30 are required to inform the police through a formal notification form.
The group’s convenor, Au Nok-hin, stood by their decision, saying that police did not follow similar protocol during a mass police rally last month against the sentencing of seven jailed officers for assaulting an Occupy activist.
Au added that he was prepared if the police arrested him, saying his action was to show the “injustice of the Public Order Ordinance”.
The group, protesting against Beijing’s “interference” in what it calls a “small-circle election”, indicated it fully understood the legal consequences.
The two front runners in the leadership race are former No 2 official Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, and ex-financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah. The third candidate is retired judge Woo Kwok-hing.
The first round of voting on Sunday will start at 9am and end at 11am in the third-floor Grand Hall of the Convention and Exhibition Centre. If there is no winner, there will be a second round of voting, from 2pm to 3pm, with a possible third round between 7pm and 8pm.