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Occupy Central

'Tipping point will come' on Hong Kong's political reform, says Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai

Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai says campaigners must be patient and build support among the public until time is ripe for another push

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 2:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 1:17pm

Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting says he wants to "slow down" the pace of Hong Kong's push for democracy and pull different democratic forces together to work towards the "tipping point" at which political reform can move forward.

Until then, he says, it is more important to defend Hong Kong's existing core values from erosion rather than mount pro-democracy offensives.

Ahead of the first anniversary of the mass sit-ins he and fellow activists launched on September 28 last year, Tai shared reflections with the Post on the experience.

He said pro-democracy campaigners needed to return to the work they put in prior to the civil disobedience movement, that of deliberation and dialogue.

"Our movement was rushed because of the 2017 deadline," Tai said, referring to the year when Hong Kong was supposed to elect its next leader by universal suffrage. A two-year reform exercise led by the government with this goal in mind ended in failure in June.

"Now there's no hope for 2017, we should look at the long term, to as far as 2047. We need to do this more slowly."

The year 2047 is when the 50-year lifespan of the "one country, two systems" formula is due to end, with negotiations on Hong Kong's future after that time expected in coming decades.

The University of Hong Kong associate law professor said he felt he was not fit to lead another mass movement like Occupy, and instead would prefer to act as a "bridge builder".

Tai said any future social movements should not depend on a single group of leaders as was the case with Occupy, but should be made up of a unified network of different groups.

Tai, along with Occupy co-founders Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and Chinese University associate professor of sociology Dr Chan Kin-man, found themselves unable to bring last year's diverse crowd of protesters under a single command.

Such groups would need time to grow until they had the support of more than half the public, which would constitute a "tipping point" at which Hongkongers would again be able to demand reform from Beijing.

"Occupy failed because less than half of society supported us," he said. "The polls showed we started off with 25 per cent support, and by the time the government reform proposal was put to a vote, democratic forces got 40 per cent and still it wasn't enough. Until we reach the tipping point, we must stand guard and defend our core values."

In recent weeks, Tai has been meeting student leaders and groups founded during Occupy. They have been brainstorming the way forward, with ideas ranging from running in the district council elections in November to organising a mock "people's election" for the chief executive.

Tai said he was hopeful a tipping point would come, and cited the recent backlash from alumni over fears the government was interfering in the autonomy of HKU as reason for hope.

"The alumni are the social elite," he said. "When they speak up, the force is overwhelming. I see huge potential in this group."