Benny Tai Yiu-ting

Hong Kong Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai should come down from his ivory tower

Alice Wu says with his latest idea for yet another impractical voting strategy, the Occupy Central co-founder shows that he does not understand the complexities that come from working with people

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 11:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 8:22pm

Human progress owes a lot to the many who have taken on the rigorous exercise of repeating their experiments, toughing it out through the painful cycle of formulating, testing and modifying hypotheses without any promise of a favourable outcome. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting cannot be accused of lacking conviction and boldness. The associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong who initiated the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement has so much faith in his “path to democracy” that it’s almost of Biblical proportions. Following Occupy, he initiated “ThunderGo”, the strategic voting scheme for the Legislative Council election last year, led Citizens United in Action to launch a “civil referendum”, via an online app, ahead of the chief executive election in March, and most recently unveiled “Project Storm” for the 2019 district council elections.

Occupy Central turned into something even Tai admitted was “beyond what [he] imagined”. Though somewhat dulled by time, the emotive reactions evoked by the mere mention of it remain strong today. It was his brainchild. But when it hit the ground in the autumn of 2014, it quickly spiralled out of control. Love and peace were lost in the process. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Occupy Central is on: Benny Tai rides wave of student protest to launch movement

Unfortunately, Tai seems to have learned little from that. When real people are involved, things get messy; that, in essence, is politics. Subsequently, his strategic voting weapon – ThunderGo – was blamed for contributing to the defeat of a few pan-democrats due to a lack of accurate information flows, which is a very practical problem that should have been foreseen. Similarly, his civic referendum for the chief executive election this year failed because it did not address the security risks involved when handling people’s personal information. So, in short, it was again inexecutable. One cannot simply ignore the human factor – people can get hurt, for real.

Tai saw Occupy Central as a political and social awakening. It’s time that he, too, was awakened to reality

And now, there are reasonable grounds to suspect the practicality of Project Storm. What Tai proposes – for the pro-democracy camp to try to field candidates in all constituencies in the district council elections – is simple fantasy. Political parties field as many candidates as they can in elections, as that is their bread and butter. Resources, or rather a lack of, usually dictate matters. Imagine if there were unlimited political aspirants and unlimited resources to cover campaign costs. There would be no uncontested seats, for one thing. Yet, maximising outcome with minimum wasted effort and expense is something we all have to live with, including politicians.

Tai’s plan also requires that all pro-democracy parties take up his campaign message. But no amount of “faith” will achieve this, unless he is ready to get involved in the day-to-day frustrations and hard work of dealing with people who have their own minds and ways of working. He will have to deal with people trying to align different views and interests for a common cause (basically, the work of running any political party), rather than just telling them what to do without a care for what that entails.

Tai saw Occupy Central as a political and social awakening. It’s time that he, too, was awakened to reality. Once is chance, twice is coincidence, the third time is habit. His loftiness extends beyond his ideas. And should he not address that – the arrogance that he is somehow above the very real and messy problems people face – the impracticality of walking his path will remain, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA