Occupy Central

Hong Kong poised for political showdown on 2017 election; Jimmy Lai to join Occupy

With Beijing set to impose 2017 election limits, Jimmy Lai says he will join Occupy Central

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 4:40am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 8:53am

With Beijing expected to confirm a tough framework today for the 2017 chief executive election, both sides of the political divide have stepped up the rhetoric.

The decision to limit the number of candidates who can stand is likely to trigger a showdown with Occupy Central campaigners - and there was an added twist to the saga yesterday when media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying said he would join the civil disobedience movement.

A former top Beijing official on the city's affairs warned that Occupy Central would end in bloodshed if its organisers refused to back down.

Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, also suggested in an RTHK interview that the movement was being "manipulated by Western countries to overthrow a regime", and that Beijing "would not tolerate such action".

But Occupy Central founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting emphasised that his campaign was not meant to challenge Beijing's sovereignty. "We are just seeking a fair electoral system, so that everyone can exercise their political rights," he said.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee is expected to endorse a decision today that only two or three candidates - who have secured half of a 1,200-strong nominating committee's support - will be allowed to stand in 2017, when Hong Kong picks its first chief executive by universal suffrage.

Pan-democrats say the framework would deprive people of a genuine choice of candidates. The Occupy Central campaign plans to hold a rally outside government headquarters today to announce its next move.

Lai - whose home was searched by graft-busters on Thursday over accusations that some lawmakers had accepted advantages after leaked emails exposed his donations to pan-democrats - confirmed in an RTHK interview that he would take part in Occupy and continue to donate to pan-democrats.

"I will participate in Occupy Central, lie on the street together and go to jail together [with other protesters]," he said, while dismissing suggestions that his donations were related to foreign powers.

On the opposite side, the Small and Medium Law Firms Association of Hong Kong, a group led by Maggie Chan Man-ki of the Beijing-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, will launch a hotline tomorrow to offer free legal advice "for citizens affected by Occupy Central".

During his RTHK interview, Chen pointed to the conflicts in Libya and Ukraine in accusing Western countries of promoting Occupy Central.

"[In Libya and Ukraine,] some people persuaded specially trained citizens to take part in the civil disobedience movement, in a bid to create bloodshed," Chen said. "And when the government takes enforcement action, the masterminds take the moral high ground to condemn the governments and overthrow them."

When asked whether the People's Liberation Army's local garrison would be mobilised in the event of a large-scale sit-in in the financial hub, he replied: "Beijing would not sit there and ignore such a situation".

But Chen also said he believed Hong Kong police could handle the matter.

Speaking at a media gathering in Beijing, NPC deputy Dr David Wong Yau-kar said Occupy Central would not sway Beijing.

"Universal suffrage means a lot to Hong Kong, and we should welcome it happily," he said. "As time goes on, I think more people would want to have a vote" rather than to have a failed reform.

He lamented that the debate on political reform in the past year had highlighted key "fundamental issues" that had not been discussed rationally.

On Beijing officials' earlier warning about the relationship between democracy and national security, Wong said: "In a sense, it was quite naive for the pan-democrats to ask 'what does universal suffrage have to do with national security?'"

He said that if a pan-democrat became the city's leader, he could face a "dilemma" if someone organised a religious forum in town and decided to invite the Dalai Lama. Beijing would also be concerned about what such a chief executive could do with all the public resources and sensitive information at his fingertips, he suggested.

Wong said: "As long as pan-democrats call for things such as 'ending one-party dictatorship', it is unlikely that Beijing would allow them to run", as it was written in the national constitution that China shall be led by the Communist Party.

And if the pan-democrats were to rule Hong Kong, they should start grooming leaders who only focus on local issues and are not critical of the central government, Wong said.

He lamented that given their experience and standing, pan-democrats - especially the moderates - did not dare to say "no" and allowed radicals and student activists to tell them what to do.