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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 CC: AT-NC

Albert Ho and Benny Tai in Central. Photo from 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, Tai argued [zh]:


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:


“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.


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:


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] :


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:


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:


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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