Occupy Central

Hong Kong must bridge widening divide over universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 3:41pm

Hongkongers need genuine democracy - of that there can be no debate. How it is to come about and what form it takes remains unclear and has to be thoroughly discussed by stakeholders. The aspirations of the organisers of a new movement to push for universal suffrage can, therefore, not be faulted. But they miss the mark as soon as their talk turns to attaining goals through civil disobedience.

Unfortunately, the Let Love and Peace Occupy Central movement seems more focused on the latter part of its name than the first. A three-stage strategy of increasingly disruptive and, if necessary, unlawful protest has been promised to force the government's hand on universal suffrage. The originator of the idea, University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, and his supporters envisage tactics like thousands of people blocking traffic in Central, forced by-elections and mass jaywalking. They have stressed that all will be peaceful and there will be no violence, but in an increasingly heated political environment, nothing can be taken for granted.

Our city has a proud record of peaceful protest. Authorities take pains to address concerns. Disrupting lives and breaking the law are not acceptable ways to make views known. This has to be especially so in Central. Being Hong Kong's financial heart, business and reputation can too easily be affected.

But such pre-planned action also widens a divide between sides that is already yawning. Top Beijing official Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the Law Committee of the National People's Congress, has not helped by articulating what would appear to be rigid requirements for the chief executive election in 2017. The manner in which he gave the details - in a speech to pro-Beijing Hong Kong lawmakers in Shenzhen - and Beijing's apparent blessing through the transcript posted on the website of the central government's Hong Kong liaison office, have spurred Tai and his supporters. There is particular concern in two of Qiao's prerequisites for electing the chief executive: that it has to be in line with the decision of the NPC Standing Committee and that "those confronting the central government are not allowed to become the chief executive".

Positions have been clearly laid down, although in less than ideal ways. Confrontation can now not be an option; there is too much at stake. Universal suffrage is promised by the Basic Law and it has to be attained amicably. All sides have to talk to one another directly. Disruptive protests are not an option.