Occupy Central

Universal suffrage needs talk not antagonism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 4:08am

Few public issues divide society as much as Occupy Central. The plan, initiated by a few pro-democracy activists to pressure Beijing for universal suffrage, is no doubt ill-conceived and not in the city's best interest. Although organisers have stressed participants will not resort to violence, it is difficult to guarantee peace and order for an anticipated 10,000-strong law-breaking crowd in the heart of the city. Government officials have repeatedly warned against possible violence. Some groups also vowed to counter the demonstration with mass campaigns.

Upset by the so-called civil disobedience, a cross-sector group is seeking to put it off by gathering at least 100,000 opponents. Led by 40 low-key figures from the academic, media, business, professional and political sectors, the moderate group said Hong Kong had reached a critical stage and it is time the silent majority spoke up. The members accused Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a law professor and chief Occupy organiser, of putting pressure on Beijing by holding the city at knifepoint. They saw themselves as righteous in defending stability and branded those who they felt were stirring chaos as evil.

The group enjoys freedom of expression, as does anyone in society. As long as the right is exercised within the law, there is nothing wrong. It ran newspaper advertisements and plans to collect online signatures. Its social media webpage gathered thousands of "likes". With its peaceful and rational expression of views, the anti-Occupy Central campaign is to be respected.

That the community is sharply divided over the way to push for democracy is worrying. Tai argues that civil disobedience, as a last resort, is justified. This view is not shared by everyone. Hongkongers are generally law-abiding. The emergence of more counter-campaigns shows there is growing disapproval of pursuing universal suffrage by breaking the law. The escalating tension is not conducive to the cause of democratic reform.

It remains to be seen whether Occupy Central organisers will eventually yield to pressure. If Tai's response so far is anything to go by, he does not seem likely to give up. He said opposition was to be expected, adding that it would be up to the public to judge which side is righteous and which evil.

Universal suffrage is to be achieved through consensus. With the 2017 goalpost just four years away, it would be more constructive to discuss the detailed electoral arrangements. Dialogue is preferred to antagonism.