Ho Lok-sang: voice of the 'silent majority' speaks out against Occupy Central
Lingnan University's Professor Ho Lok-sang has gone from idealistic student to defender of the political status quo
The pursuit of universal suffrage is subordinate to the rule of law, says a group of new opponents to Occupy Central, the civil disobedience movement planned for next summer in an attempt to force the government's hand on political reform.
For the main advocate of this belief - Professor Ho Lok-sang, director of Lingnan University's centre for public policy studies - the social injustices facing Hong Kong are not sufficient to justify such a large-scale protest.
"Hong Kong is not a tyranny; we do not have something like an oppression of minority groups," says Ho, one of six convenors of the newly formed anti-Occupy Central group Silent Majority for Hong Kong.
"We have substantial equality of rights in Hong Kong, which should not be sacrificed in a fight for equal electoral rights. Our level of justice is significantly better than that of many other places, so the pursuit of democracy - though not ideal at present - is not a pressing issue."
The group, which organisers claim has been joined by more than 40 academics and professionals, recently stole the media spotlight in the debate over Occupy Central.
Just 10 days after its official formation, it has already raised the temperature of the debate, most prominently when the key convenor, journalist-turned-PR manager Robert Chow Yung, described Occupy Central as "evil" and his own causes as "good" while exchanging fire on a radio programme with Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the University of Hong Kong legal scholar planning the movement that is fraying the nerves of Beijing officials.
But even Ho says he is uncomfortable hearing Chow's "provocative" remarks.
"What he said unnecessarily created enemies for our group," says the 63-year-old economics scholar. "That makes people feel we are confrontational."
Ho says his intention is straightforward: to object to Occupy Central, nothing more. He also says he is aware some of his views may appear contradictory.
"I believe in constitutionalism on the mainland but I do not oppose its one-party rule. I do not, however, support Charter 08," Ho says, referring to the manifesto put forward by jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo for political reform on the mainland.
"I wrote 20 years ago that I supported the functional constituency system in the Legislative Council. But now, I think its function to use professional knowledge for Hong Kong's overall well-being does not exist."
Ho says he would have been willing to support Tai and his group if they had dropped their civil disobedience plan and resorted to milder measures to make their arguments.
"I have told [Occupy Central's] Chan Kin-man that I would maybe join a signature campaign if they organised one," Ho says, adding that it would be a "useful alternative" to make Beijing listen to Hongkongers' views.
Chan, a sociology professor at Chinese University, along with Tai and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, were the trio that came up with the idea for Occupy Central.
Another limelight-grabbing moment for Silent Majority came when it splashed out on full-page adverts in 11 Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong last week, urging what it believed to be the city's "silent majority" to speak up against Tai's plan.
The expensive and high-profile move was widely seen as sponsored and organised by Beijing officials, but Ho says the group's major source of funding is businessmen, whom he has not named.
"One thing we are trying to avoid is that a single businessman gives us most of the funds."
Among the six convenors of Silent Majority, Chow and Ho have been the most vocal.
The four others are Chinese University political scientist Dr Chang Chak-yan; Liberal Party member Fung Ka-pun; Peter Wong Kwok-keung, the chairman and chief executive of construction firm Kum Shing Group and a local delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference; and Spencer Li Wing-kwai, the head of an innovation and technology association.
As a student, Ho attended classes at HKU's Pok Fu Lam campus - where Tai currently teaches. He later went on to work for the Ontario government for four years after finishing postgraduate studies in Canada.
"Forty years ago when I entered university, I hoped to seek an answer to society and to politics - I hoped to look for an ideal world," Ho says.
Four decades on, he now feels more content. "I think Hong Kong is quite desirable," he says.
1972-1981 Bachelor of Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong. Master of Arts and PhD, University of Toronto
1979-83 Economist, Ontario treasury ministry; research officer, Ontario Economic Council
1993-95 Senior lecturer in economics at Chinese University of Hong Kong
1995-present Professor of economics and director of centre for public policy studies, Lingnan University
2013 Co-convenor, Silent Majority for Hong Kong