Occupy Central

Occupy Central should 'deliberate' on the effectiveness of its campaign

Regina Ip says as Occupy Central campaigners prepare to mobilise, they should think hard about the odds of Beijing acceding to a demand that plainly flouts the Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 4:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 4:52am

During the consultation on methods to elect the chief executive in 2017 and to form the legislature in 2020, government officials took pains to cultivate an aura of open-mindedness and humility. Yet a couple of weeks later, senior officials took orchestrated action to turn up the heat on those who seemed poised to challenge the Basic Law.

On May 14, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim read out a carefully prepared statement to caution school authorities, teachers, parents and students against taking part in the Occupy Central movement, which Ng warned would be bound to infringe the law.

A day later, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen disclosed that, in the next phase of consultation, proposals that were inconsistent with the Basic Law, namely civic nomination and party nomination, were unlikely to be put forward for consideration. This is the clearest indication yet that the government would not countenance proposals that lie outside the Basic Law.

If any event prompted the hardening of the government's stance, it must be the outcome of the vote taken on the Occupy Central movement's so-called Deliberation Day early this month. Fifteen proposals for electing the chief executive by universal suffrage were put forward for voting. Of the 2,565 votes cast, 44.6 per cent supported the proposal put forward by students; 27.7 per cent supported the People Power plan and 17.7 per cent supported one from the Alliance for True Democracy. All included elements of civic nomination, a violation of the Basic Law, which gives "a broadly representative nominating committee" the exclusive power to nominate chief executive candidates.

The Bar Association has stressed that although the process of nomination, as part of the electoral process, must ensure the full enjoyment by the electorate of their democratic rights, the Basic Law does not envisage nomination other than by the nominating committee. It pointed out that if that committee were required by electoral law to nominate a person who fulfilled certain characteristics, such as having secured a certain number of "civic nominations", the committee itself would serve no practical purpose.

The clarion voice of the Bar Association, unfortunately, went unheeded by most participants of the Occupy Central vote.

The movement's organisers plan to put the three proposals to a public vote on June 20-22. Armed with this direct, popular mandate, organisers would get ready to occupy the Central business district if Beijing failed to respond satisfactorily to its demands.

As the organisers claim to have developed their strategy based on the doctrine of civil disobedience, it is pertinent to question, as Stanford scholar Larry Diamond has, whether the moral justifications for this Hong Kong version are sufficiently strong, and whether it is likely to achieve its stated objective of coercing Beijing into yielding to its demand for civic nomination.

British military historian Lawrence Freedman, in his recent publication Strategy, gave a comprehensive account of the theory and practice of civil disobedience, as it was first developed in the 19th century by Henry David Thoreau in protest against slavery, and subsequently employed by several great leaders to achieve epochal change.

Civil disobedience can be summarised as a deliberate flouting of unjust laws to demonstrate their arbitrary nature and to move public opinion against them. Prominent examples include the British suffragette movement marching for women's right to vote; Gandhi's struggle against colonial rule; and America's civil rights movement. It should be noted that, in all these cases, leaders of the civil disobedience movements went through considerable personal suffering to dramatise the ethical case against the unjust laws; and the "civil" movements did, at various stages, turn militant or even violent.

It is questionable whether organisers of Hong Kong's copycat movement can make out a sufficiently strong ethical case for flouting the nominating mechanism stipulated in the Basic Law that is comparable to those against slavery, or gender or race discrimination cited above.

While academics who have offered their views on Hong Kong's way forward have urged conformity with "international standards" in electoral arrangements, none has been able to object to the "broadly representative" nominating committee in the Basic Law as being unlawful or unethical.

Arguments have been put forward for making Hong Kong's electoral arrangements more inclusive, but it would be difficult to argue that an electoral system must be designed to facilitate the participation of candidates from a particular political camp. The pan-democrats' arguments, taken to the extreme by Occupy Central organisers, amount to no more than that.

It is also questionable whether Occupy Central, like civil disobedience movements elsewhere, can remain non-violent, or can coerce Beijing into capitulation. Militancy magnifies public anguish and, at the same time, political risks.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party