Occupy Central

Central issues of the Occupy Central movement

Benny Tai sets out the seven main components of the Occupy Central movement, which, he hopes, can help create a fair and just election system for Hong Kong and thus rebuild trust

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 4:18am

There are seven components of the "Occupy Central with Love and Peace" movement. They form an integral whole. To some, this is far too complex. Indeed, these concepts are not simple. However, we are now facing a complex political reform process in Hong Kong. Therefore, a sophisticated plan is needed.

First, the ultimate goal of Occupy Central is to push for a means of electing the chief executive that can satisfy international standards on universal and equal suffrage under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that is applicable to Hong Kong through Article 39 of the Basic Law.

We face a complex political reform process. Therefore, a sophisticated plan is needed

The standards include at least three reasonable requirements: that every eligible voter has an equal number of votes; an equal weight for each vote; and no unreasonable restrictions on the right to stand for election. A restriction that could be used to screen out a candidate purely on the grounds of political opinion would surely not be considered reasonable.

The second component is non-violent action. One form this takes in Occupy Central is civil disobedience. In a small but powerful book on non-violent actions, From Dictatorship to Democracy, Professor Gene Sharp suggested 198 methods of non-violent action, under three distinct categories: protest and persuasion, non-co-operation, and intervention.

Creating a social disturbance to a degree that it makes governance difficult is not the main objective of non-violent action. Rather, such action aims to generate a desire among people to impose limits on the government's power and cultivate an understanding that people have the ability to withhold their consent to be governed by the existing illegitimate authority.

Third, there is civil disobedience. The objective here is to arouse people's concern for the injustice of existing laws or systems. Martin Luther King Jnr provided a summary of civil disobedience in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail". This is the model of civil disobedience. According to King, acts of civil disobedience are also illegal acts, but people who have committed them will voluntarily surrender themselves to the authorities and are willing to bear legal responsibility. They may join such acts to win people's sympathy and support. However, one must also carefully calculate the cost that might be incurred before taking part.

Occupy Central will follow these principles to organise our acts of civil disobedience. Such acts would only be carried out after Occupy Central's proposals on the means of electing the chief executive were rejected by Beijing.

Next, citizen authorisation after deliberation. These "deliberation days" are the process for citizens to indicate their stance directly on public issues. The actual proposal for the means of electing the chief executive needs authorisation from the general public. In addition, a decision should only be made after a detailed and well-designed deliberative process in which people receive adequate and balanced information on the options, and on the pros and cons of proposals from people holding different viewpoints.

Those who agree with the convictions of Occupy Central, no matter whether they are prepared to join in any future acts of civil disobedience, will be invited to join the deliberation days. Participants will deliberate in a group, with neutral moderators and facilitators. Through an electronic voting system, the general public can indicate whether they endorse the proposal recommended by Occupy Central.

Fifth, social awakening. As King said, the objective of civil disobedience is to awaken people to see the injustice in the laws and systems. If people are alerted to how systemic injustice has hurt the dignity of individuals as well as the general interests of the community, they may use different methods - including other non-violent action - to bring about change. The goal of Occupy Central is the same. Hong Kong people would be awakened to see that universal and equal suffrage is a basic right for all. It is also an important method to rectify the legitimacy crisis of the Hong Kong government so that it can enjoy the legitimate authority to introduce reforms to resolve deep-seated conflicts that include the widening wealth gap.

Sixth is the political game. Occupy Central is a political game in Hong Kong in which supporters of true democracy plan and act strategically. A game is interactive. A player's action must generate sufficient impact or influence, actual or perceived, on other players before they will be pressured to react. But all games involve risk. One cannot accurately predict all possible actions of other players and one cannot foresee whether one's action will generate any reaction, or indeed what that reaction might be. Action can only be planned on the basis of information at hand. Decisions in a game are made rationally.

It is hoped that sufficient pressure can be put on the players who are against true democracy in Hong Kong, including the pro-establishment camp and the central government. If they can rationally reconsider their positions, it is possible that they will agree to have true democracy in Hong Kong. Occupy Central does not want to see a winner-takes-all result, but to create an opportunity for all players to come together to negotiate the details on how to implement true democracy in Hong Kong.

Finally, public dispute resolution. To resolve a public dispute, the key is to construct a procedure that can allow all parties involved to enter on an equal footing into a deliberative process. This process aims to help the parties adopt an open-minded attitude in understanding the concerns of others. On the condition that no party's basic interests or values are infringed upon, they would be encouraged to reach a consensus and a win-win solution. Occupy Central will first have to deal with the differences on strategies to achieve universal suffrage within the pan-democratic camp. Hopefully, the camp can be consolidated into a more powerful and united force for democracy in Hong Kong.

Many people consider that Occupy Central is too radical a move to strive for true democracy, that there is no chance Beijing would accept a demand presented in this manner. However, if civil disobedience were not planned, the chances of achieving true democracy would be even slimmer.

Our actions are rational and peaceful. There is no attempt to challenge the sovereignty of the central government. We only want a fair and just election system for Hong Kong. Trust between Hong Kong people, the Hong Kong government and the central government can be rebuilt.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, is the initiator of the Occupy Central Movement. This is an edited version of a speech he made at a luncheon organised by the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on Monday