Occupy Central

'Both sides need to listen on reform'

University of Hong Kong's new law dean arrives day after annual march and says government and pro-democracy camp must compromise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 4:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 8:24am

Both the central government and Hongkongers can ill afford not to compromise when it comes to introducing universal suffrage to the city in time for the 2017 chief executive election, the new dean of law at the University of Hong Kong says.

Professor Michael Hor Yew Meng started his five-year term on Wednesday - the day after the annual July 1 pro-democracy march drew its biggest turnout in a decade.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post on his first day in the job, Hor tackled the gap between demands from democracy campaigners for electoral reforms that conformed with international standards, and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's categorical dismissal of the existence of international standards for universal suffrage.

For Occupy Central, the movement founded by his university colleague Benny Tai Yiu-ting, those international standards include the rights to nominate and to be nominated.

Beijing rules out public nomination. It says a nominating committee must be solely charged with picking candidates to run in the one-man, one-vote election.

Hor, a criminal law expert from Singapore, said: "When you sit down at the negotiating table and start talking about it, you can't say, 'I don't care about what anybody else does.'

"We do care about what anybody else does, simply because it is the collective experience of people around the world.

"Of course those experiences need to be localised … but you certainly cannot ignore them," he added.

Hor went on to apparently disagree with Occupy Central's decision to shortlist three of 15 proposals on electoral reform for its unofficial 10-day referendum which ended last Sunday.

He suggested the other proposals could be "resurrected" at the negotiating table. Tai has previously explained the decision was one agreed by Occupy supporters to avoid confusion.

Hor, whose predecessor Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun held the role for 12 years, believed necessity would fuel consensus on electoral reform. "I'm actually confident it will eventually be resolved because it is not in the interest of either [Beijing] or Hong Kong to be in an open state of confrontation."

He called on both sides to start moving a step closer to each other by listening "with an open mind". The next stage, he said, "is to find solutions reasonably acceptable to Hong Kong and the Chinese government".

"This is where this faculty can continue to contribute ... I don't believe in ivory-tower faculties and academics. I think faculties and universities have got to be relevant to society," said Hor.

"And it is all the more crucial as the issues become more controversial," he added.