Retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has taken to the streets of Hong Kong in a bid to promote participation in an unofficial poll on democratic reforms, The Catholic Weekly reports.
Voter turnout in an unofficial referendum on democratic reforms swelled on Monday (June 23) in Hong Kong.
Cardinal Zen was reported to have spoken out against China after leaders in Beijing issued a white paper reaffirming their authority over semi-autonomous Hong Kong. Cardinal Zen travelled Hong Kong on foot in mid-June to boost the turnout at the unofficial polls.
Hong Kong had been under British rule for almost 160 years until 1997, when China regained control of the city-state. Under a "one-state, two systems" form of co-existence the democratic state has maintained wide-ranging autonomy.
However, social tensions have grown as many resident claim civil liberties are being eroded.
Groups of concerned Hong Kong citizens demanded that China allow universal suffrage in the 2017 elections. Since 1997, electing Hong Kong's top leader has meant going through a 1200-member committee that makes the pick from a list of Beijing-approved candidates.
Many citizens want ordinary people to have a say in which candidates can run in the 2017 election for chief executive and also in the subsequent election for legislators. The issue was put up for an unofficial vote in mid-June.
Voting was extended from 22-29 June after the voting website received billions of hits in an apparent cyberattack. Voting has been conducted online and via smartphones.
One of the pro-democracy leaders, Emily Lau Wai-hing, a Hong Kong Legislative Council member, said as of the afternoon of 23 June more than 700,000 votes had been cast. Hong Kong's population stands at about 7.1 million.
Lau said supporters of universal suffrage are facing "a very authoritarian and repressive state" in China. Still, she said, there is a stipulation in the governing rules that Hong Kong will elect leaders through universal suffrage starting in 2017.
'This is an undertaking given by Beijing, and what we're trying to do is to get Beijing to keep its promise,' Lau said. 'But I guess most people do not have any illusions, and it will be an uphill battle.'
Lau said Cardinal Zen's stance has been 'very helpful'.
'I think he is a very, very well-respected person by the Catholics, of course, and also by people who are not Catholics because he has principles. He has courage. And he is willing to speak out even if it upsets the powers that be,' said Lau.
The Hong Kong diocese has remained neutral on the referendum.
Retired cardinal supports call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong (Catholic Weekly)