Occupy Central is a proposed civil disobedience protest which would take place in Central, Hong Kong in July 2014 for universal suffrage. The movement is initiated by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, in January 2013.
Let public have say on political reform, urges Occupy Central organiser
Idea to gauge public opinion is suggested by Occupy Central organiser over dinner with chief executive … who fails to give any response
A core organiser of the Occupy Central democracy movement has urged the government to conduct a non-binding referendum to forge consensus on Hongkongers' ideal electoral reform proposal for 2017.
Dr Chan Kin-man, one of the three people spearheading the campaign, said he got no response from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying when he put the idea forward at a Government House dinner on Thursday night.
"Although it would be a non-binding referendum, the exercise would serve as an important reference of public opinion," Chan said on an RTHK radio programme yesterday morning.
"Even in states like Switzerland where referendums are frequently held, the government organises non-binding plebiscites to learn the public's views," said Chan, a sociologist at Chinese University. "It shows respect for procedural justice."
He added that the government would not necessarily have to follow the favoured proposal but acknowledged the "immense pressure" that would stem from the outcome.
"The government does not have to worry too much about losing though. In foreign examples, people often eventually vote for the milder electoral reform proposals instead of the radical ones," said Chan.
"Even if the government is not holding a plebiscite, Occupy Central is carrying out the exercise to obtain a mandate for the movement anyway," he added.
He said that when he raised the idea at the dinner table some fellow guests claimed the right to conduct referendums applied only in sovereign states.
This week, a letter emerged in which the director of the central government's liaison office, Zhang Xiaoming , rejected the idea of "civil nomination", where candidates for chief executive would be nominated by a proportion of registered voters. But Chan said Zhang had been "too hasty" in concluding that the idea was against the Basic Law.
"The political reform consultation has not even started yet. As Beijing's most senior representative in Hong Kong, Zhang should tolerate different opinions, instead of ruling out certain proposals too hastily," Chan said.
"Even experienced legal scholar [Basic Law Committee member] Albert Chen Hung-yee would not say that at this stage."
But Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, a vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong who also attended the Thursday dinner, disagreed.
"Any electoral reform proposal has to comply with the Basic Law … but 'civil nomination' may not fulfil requirements stated in Article 45," Cheung said, referring to the clause stating that the nomination has to be made "by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".
Cheung added: "If the proposal is unconstitutional we should not waste time and social resources discussing it."
Another Government House dinner is to be held on Tuesday and the 24-strong guest list obtained by the South China Morning Post shows a mixture of media representatives, pan-democrats, academics, labour unionists and representatives from the business and professional sectors.
One guest is Kevin Ho Chi-ming, secretary general in the election office of Henry Tang Ying-yen, Leung's defeated rival in last year's chief executive race.