HONG KONG - In what could be a marked escalation of tensions between Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp and Beijing, the organiser of the annual July 1 mass rally plans to mount a blockade of the polling centre of the Chief Executive election on polling day.
Mr Au Nok Kin told The Straits Times that the Civil Human Rights Front is planning to mobilise activists from 40 organisations to stop members of 1,194-seat Election Committee from entering the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, thus disrupting the closely-watched election.
The three-way leadership vote is the first since massive pro-democracy street protests rocked the city in 2014.
Under the current system, Hong Kong's next leader will be picked by the Election Committee which is packed with Beijing loyalists. The outcome of the race is widely seen to be determined by the central government in Beijing.
Mr Au, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, told The Straits Times on Wednesday (March 8) that the group wants Hong Kongers to have the rights to choose the city's next leader.
Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers have mocked the election as a "small-circle election" and questioned the legitimacy of the chief executive as majority of the Election Committee members are pro-Beijing tycoons, lawmakers and representatives of professional bodies and trade associations.
"Many people see this as an unjust election system as the 'small-circle' election committee does not represent Hong Kongers. Therefore, we need to stop them," said Mr Au, 29.
On March 26, protesters from about 40 organisations will gather outside Wan Chai MTR station before marching to Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the main polling station and central counting station will be located.
"It's hard to say how many people will turn up, but during the last election in 2012, we had 10,000 participants," said Mr Au.
The district councillor warns that things might turn ugly.
"We expect some organisations and political parties to be more radical and their members may run after the chief executive candidates and stop election committee members from entering the polling station. Otherwise, if we have a massive turnout, we would also be able to block these committee members from entering the polling station, without physically restraining them," said Mr Au.
"We expect many of the pro-Beijing voters to arrive in their cars. If so, it would be difficult for them to walk past the protesters to enter the building."
Unlike in 2012, the organiser said he does not intend to notify the Commissioner of Police of the mass gathering this time, although he expects the police to step up enforcement that day.
According to the Public Order Ordinance, the organiser of any public meeting or procession which sees more than 500 participants, would have to inform the Commissioner of Police of the event, and the event can be conducted only if the Commissioner does not object to it.
"We believe that everyone has his rights to protest and such rights should not need to be approved by police," said Mr Au.
Citing how a recent gathering of 33,000 policemen to show support for seven policemen jailed for assaulting a protester had also not received prior approval from the Commissioner of Police, Mr Au said: "If they do not respect the system, why do we have to respect the system."
The first round of voting for the three eligible candidates - Mr John Tsang, 65, Mrs Carrie Lam, 59 and Mr Woo Kwok Hing, 70 - will be held from 9am to 11am. A candidate needs at least 601 votes to win.
Should there be a need for more than one round of voting, the second and third rounds of voting will be scheduled from 2pm to 3pm, and from 7pm to 8pm respectively, on the same day.
It will be the first chief executive election since the massive Occupy Protests two years ago which saw thousands camped out in the streets for 79 days, demanding for a "one man, one vote" system to pick the city's chief executive.
Although the protests failed, the demand for change remains strong, especially among the youths in Hong Kong.
In the past week, a smaller group of activists have been seen heckling chief executive candidates on various occasions.
Former chief secretary, Mrs Lam, who is seen as Beijing's preferred candidate, has been confronted on at least five different occasions.
Starting from last Monday, a dozen youth activists including Mr Joshua Wong, the face of 2014 Occupy Protests, and lawmaker Lau Siu Lai, gatecrashed her press conference where she delivered the final part of her policy pledges. The event was delayed by about 40 minutes because the group had refused to leave.
The following day, protesters gathered and chanted slogans outside the electoral office in Wan Chai after learning that Mrs Lam would be submitting her nomination forms that day. To avoid the protesters, Mrs Lam had to enter the building from a back entrance.
"We are not just targeting Carrie Lam, (but also) John Tsang as well, but not so much Woo Kwok Hing," said Mr Avery Ng, chairman of the League of Social Democrats.
The 40-year-old radical activist who has taken part in four protests in the past one week, vowed to heckle the chief executive candidates throughout their campaigns, to show his dissatisfaction to Beijing and to "remind the public and international community that this is not a real election. It's a campaign for the support of the communist party, not for the Hong Kong people", said Mr Ng.