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Hong Kong's Democrats Have Radical Plans

Hong Kong is abuzz with radical plans. Democrats and political activists have recently started discussing civil disobedience and an “Occupy Central” movement as a tool to pressure Beijing to grant Hong Kong genuine universal suffrage – one person, one vote – in the election for the head of the government scheduled for 2017. Currently, according to Hong Kong Basic Law, the head or Chief Executive, is elected by a committee of 1,200 people rather than the general population.

Activists and prominent figures have become increasingly incensed at repeated deferrals of democratic reform. Even though the Basic Law of Hong Kong explicitly states that by 2007 universal suffrage would be a reality, the Steering Committee of the National People's Congress re-interpreted the Basic Law twice, in 2004 and 2007, in order to delay any such reforms. Although the latest benchmark has been set for 2017, Beijing authorities recently started talking about a “pre-election mechanism” that would screen out undesirable Chief Executive candidates and thus defer, once more, any real change.

Albert Ho and Benny Tai in Central. Photo from inmediahk.net. CC: AT-NC

Albert Ho and Benny Tai in Central. Photo from inmediahk.net. CC: AT-NC

In response, supporters of democratic reform in Hong Kong have begun stirring. Benny Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong put forward a civil disobedient proposal for “Occupy Central” in a newspaper commentary earlier this year. In a follow-up interview in January with Melody Chan of inmediahk.net, Tai argued [zh]:

戴耀廷指談判從來都是講實力,而我們退無可退:「你去同人講數,手上都無核彈,點講?」他指出,「現在我們唯一有的武器,叫做1/3否決權,但呢個武器只會自己毀滅自己,最終都係無乜用。因為你在立法會,一否決方案,咪無左囉!北京說,我給你普選,你自己唔要咋喎。」癱瘓中環喎講緊,咁激?「激進本身可能是策略。沒有激進民主那一翼,溫和民主這一邊,就無野可以同人傾」。而且,「香港而家有幾激啫?」「最激咪得長毛一個?佢做得最多咩事?司法覆核囉。」

Negotiation is all about bargaining power. We are left with no choice: “How can you negotiate without a nuclear bomb at hand?” He further explains, “Now our only weapon is one third objection vote. But such a weapon is self-destructive, you will gain nothing out of it. Once you oppose the proposal in the legislative council, the proposal is just denied. Beijing will say, I have given you the option, you opposed it.” What we are now talking about is paralyzing Central, is this radical? “Radical is a strategy. Without radical democracy, the moderate democrats have no bargaining power. Moreover, Hong Kong is not so radical. We only have one Long Hair? He just keeps filing for judicial reviews.”

He outlined his plan:

「社會上有頭有面的人都要參與堵路,大家要公開、莊嚴地簽署同意書,協議這是一個和平的集會」。「如此一萬人堵路,會引起一連串問題:警察拉不拉人?律政司告唔告?裁判處判唔判?有個會計師被人拉左有案底,公會罰唔罰?」…「你有得一萬人簽名同意堵路,北京都要諗下:現在不讓步,只會跑出更激烈的泛民。到時就連帶香港的商人也會投訴做不到生意,會影響到北京。」

“Celebrities should agree to the blockade. Everyone should sign the agreement publicly and solemnly that this is a peaceful assembly. Once 10 thousand people agree to sign, a series of question would arise: will the police arrest the demonstrators? Will the judiciary prosecute them? How about the court? If an accountant got arrested, will the Accountant Association take disciplinary action?”… “Once you have 10 thousands signing the agreement, Beijing has to think: if they don't give in, the radicals will enter the scene. Then the business sector would complain that they can't do business in Hong Kong. This will affect Beijing.”

Many democracy activists have joined the conversation in the past months, and a more detailed plan has surfaced in another interview [zh] on March 7 with Benny Tai and Albert Ho, the former Chairman of the Democratic Party.

最新方案,預備何俊仁會辭職搞公投。他的爭普選藍圖,愈見具體:「這個由10,000人討論出來的方案,還先要經過電子投票平台公投一次。」
電子平台,估計由港大鍾庭耀提供,「可以預料,電子投票有結果後,中央政府會在此時,拋出一個似是而非的方案,稍作退讓、但仍未會是真普選。到這個時候,何俊仁便辭去立法會議員席位,引發變相公投,讓市民選擇是否接納中央提出的方案。如果市民否決了,而中央還是不接受,大伙便堵路。再下來,便是市民從生活各方各面的不合作運動。」

In the latest plan, Albert Ho will resign from the legislative council to create an occasion for a referendum. Tai's plan to struggle for universal suffrage is becoming more concrete: “The universal suffrage proposal should be thoroughly discussed by 10 thousand people and endorsed by the general public through electronic voting.”

The voting platform will be provide by Robert Chung Ting Yiu. Tai said, “It is likely that after the electronic voting, the Central government will put forward a vague election plan that is not truly universal suffrage. By then Albert Ho will resign from legislation council and trigger a referendum mechanism (by-election) and let the public decide whether or not they accept the Central government's proposal. If Hong Kong people reject the plan and the Central government still does not accept the result, we will block the road and start un-cooperative protest in all aspect of life.”

Although Albert Ho is perceived as a moderate Democrat, he is prepared to go to jail for the cause:

「我們的決心好清楚的。所以,為什麼我年初三那天(2月12日)對記者說,會燒區旗犯法抗命:燒區旗係無得唔判我入獄的,你一定要罰我。燒一次唔罰,燒到你罰為止」,「政府現在還以為我們是『大』佢。我在立法會上已經好清楚,對住政制事務局局長譚志源好冷靜平和地說:呢件事係會發生嘅。黃碧雲都說了會參加:『至多咪唔教書囉』。我哋今次唔會急流勇退、上一上就縮」。

Our determination is very clear. That's why I told reporters on February 12 that I would burn the SAR [Special Administrative Region] flag as an act of civil disobedience, for which a current court case states you will be sentenced to jail. If you don't put me in jail the first time, I will burn it again and again until you put me in jail. Now the government still thinks that this is just a threat. I have made it very clear in the legislative council to the head of Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau Tam Chi Yuan that this will happen. Wong Pik Wan (another Democratic Party member and a Legislative Councilor) said she would join, ‘the worst scenario is losing my teaching job'. We will not retreat this time.

While more and more political leaders have expressed their support for “Occupy Central”, some social activists and bloggers like Henry Porter have expressed reservations [zh] :

雖然我認同佔領中環成局的機會相當大,但成局與成功仍然是兩回事。激進派可以在認為不對路的時候走頭,同樣溫和派也可以隨時散水走人。萬一民主黨或陳建民之流再受中共「感召」,再爭取一個類似戴耀庭的讓步方案,可能有人已認為可以收貨;又或者當萬人表決結果被認為妄顧少數聲音,只要其中有兩三千人拉隊走人,一個缺乏強勢領導的組織,試問又怎樣去面對一個分崩離析的局面呢?

Although I believe that Occupy Central will likely to take place, it is not guaranteed to be successful. Both the radicals and moderates can step away when they anticipate an undesirable outcome. If the Democratic Party or Chan Kin Man are under the Chinese Communist Party's “calling” again and successfully bargain for a seemingly compromised proposal as predicted by Tai, some may accept the bargain and leave; or when the 10 thousand protesters vote on the decision, the minority disagree on the result and leave. An organization without a strong leader cannot deal with such a chaotic situation.

However, Porter still believes that “Occupy Central” is worth a try:

「佔領中環」對特區政府最致命的,就是將一班最保守、最冷漠的人拉到支持面。…就算他們的決心未受到考驗,就算他們是最有機會抽腿走頭的人,「佔領中環」的的確確將他們推到前所未有的界線,而單單這一點,已經不應對這個運動作出全面否定。

The most fatal attack to the SAR government in this “Occupy Central” action is that it tries to win support from a group of conservative and indifferent social groups […] Even though they are not very determined or they may retreat, the action has pushed them to cross the line. In this sense, we cannot deny the significance of this action.

Current affairs commentator Chan King Fai points out [zh] in a piece, published March 6, that the success of the movement ultimately depends on building effective alliances:

今趟的對手是中央,即俗稱的「打大佬」,這就需要更為充沛的決心和勇氣;最後,若要打贏,就得團結最多的人,包括那些分歧、冷漠、怯懦、「睇淡」的各路人群,這又要求一份跨越界限的創造力。

This time our opponent is the central government. We have to “fight the big brother” so to speak. We need lots of determination and courage. If we want to win the battle, we need to unify as many people as possible, including those who have different opinion, indifferent, coward, or cynical. To do this we need more creativity to build the bridges and cross the borders.

Hong Kong has been a Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China since 1997, after its sovereignty was transferred from the United Kingdom to China.

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