Universal suffrage

Law expert plans a blockade for vote

HKU Professor Benny Tai is planning a massive exercise in civil disobedience to send a message to Beijing about its universal suffrage pledge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 3:46am

A leading law professor hopes to get tens of thousands of Hongkongers onto the streets in Central next year to pressure the central government to keep its pledge of allowing universal suffrage for the city.

But the plan, drafted by Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an expert in constitutional law at the University of Hong Kong, is more ambitious than merely snarling traffic.

He hopes the exercise in civil disobedience will unify the pro-democracy camp and create a political culture that truly engages the public.

Tai unveiled this idea last month in his column in the Hong Kong Economic Journal. It has since been described as a "depth charge" that will shake up the current political deadlock.

Beijing has said Hong Kong could have universal suffrage for the chief executive election by 2017. Yet many Hongkongers fear the rules could be construed to favour the Beijing-friendly camp - for instance, by imposing a high nomination threshold for candidates.

The Hong Kong government has yet to begin a public consultation on the constitutional reform process.

Tai's article - The most lethal weapon of civil disobedience - details the road occupation plan, which Tai hopes will involve at least 10,000 protesters.

Participants will be asked to sign an oath acknowledging the movement's nonviolent nature, and agreeing to surrender to police after the road blockade.

The occupation will be publicly announced before it takes place. The participants' commitment would be a source of inspiration for Hongkongers, Tai said.

"It is not only a movement of 10,000 people," Tai said. "When 10,000 people block the traffic in Central, prevent others from going home and the bear the consequences of their actions, all seven million people in the city will have to ask themselves how much they are willing to pay for democracy.

The professor said that everyone has what he terms a "Central" in them, which allows them to ask how much they would pay for democracy.

"The question is whether we want to occupy the Central in our mind before occupying the Central in reality," he said.

The road blockade would likely be carried out in July next year, when the government unveiled its constitutional reform proposal, he said.

"Blocking the road is a weapon that we do not want to use, but will not hesitate to use when necessary. It breaks the law, but it is for a higher goal of achieving justice. When it happens, Beijing has to weigh its options."

The movement is not directed at any enemy, Tai said. "We are not against the central government, nor Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying nor any pro-establishment parties. "All we want is a set of fair rules that honour the promise of universal suffrage."

Tai is no stranger to dialogue with Beijing. He was a member of the Basic Law Consultative Committee in the mid-1980s, when he was a core member of the student union at HKU.

"The plan may be naïve or innocent, but the motive is pure. I would rather be a man living with such hopes rather than be a realist living in despair," he said.