As Hong Kong students joined the occupation of the Taiwan legislature yesterday, the city's Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing confirmed that lawmakers are to discuss a contingency plan in the event of a copycat sit-in.
It followed calls from pro-government legislators including Wong Ting-kwong, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who said he was worried about the Hong Kong legislature or other public buildings being similarly occupied.
"I am not saying that we have to step up security measures or manpower," Wong told the Post. "But in case of an emergency, should we call the police and who should make that call? I think we have to discuss and be prepared psychologically."
Pan-democratic lawmakers such as the Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan suggested that his colleagues across the aisle that divides the two political camps might be a bit too sensitive. "We have to defend our openness and transparency … because our Legco complex was criticised for being [not open enough in the past]," Ho said. "Do you have to backtrack on that because something has happened in Taiwan … and when it is not obvious that [Legco] is going to be occupied?"
Tsang later confirmed to the Post that the issue of a contingency plan could go before the Legco Commission, which he chairs, on April 8. "It has happened in Taiwan and councillors are concerned, so I think we should talk about [what to do] in case problems arise," Tsang said, adding that it was possible no new measures would be necessary if existing emergency procedures were found to be adequate.
A spokesman for the Legco Secretariat said it had about 90 security staff and "substantial experience" in handling mass protests near Legco. He stressed there was "a well-established tradition for legislative proposals to be closely scrutinised".
Earlier this week, Occupy Central organiser Dr Chan Kin-man declined to rule out occupying the Legislative Council if the government failed to deliver on genuine universal suffrage.
Four years ago, thousands gathered outside the old Legco building in Central to protest against the HK$67 billion Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong rail link. Officials and pro-government lawmakers had to leave the building under a police escort.
In November, pro-government lawmakers used a passage linking the Legco complex at Tamar with the adjacent government headquarters to evade protesters after they vetoed an inquiry into why Hong Kong Television Network's application for a free-to-air licence was denied.
At the height of that protest, entrances to Legco were locked, barricaded and guarded by police, but DAB lawmaker Ip Kwok-him said yesterday that even that level of security would not stop determined activists. "They could even station themselves in pan-democratic lawmakers' offices upstairs then come down to take over our chamber," he said.
The NeoDemocrats' Gary Fan Kwok-wai said that the Legco building's design made it difficult for activists to copy events in Taipei. "Our chamber is larger … there are also more doors," Fan said. "So while it might be easier to break in, it will be harder to 'defend' it from security or police officers' attempts to re-take it."
Fan also believed Hongkongers were more used to venting discontent on the streets in mass rallies. That view was echoed by Oscar Lai Man-lok, of the student-led Scholarism group, who suggested that a plan of action rather than occupation was key to a successful campaign.