28 January 2020
Some activists are calling for Central to be occupied during the July 1 march from Victoria Park to Admiralty. Photo: HKEJ
Some activists are calling for Central to be occupied during the July 1 march from Victoria Park to Admiralty. Photo: HKEJ

Cool heels next step for Occupy Central

The move has been made, the message is clear and now it is time to wait for a government response. 

That looks to be the thinking of the organizers of the Occupy Central campaign after more than 700,000 residents cast their votes in an unofficial referendum on the weekend. The poll on three proposals for the 2017 Chief Executive election sent a strong signal to Beijing that Hongkongers will not tolerate screening out of Beijing-unfriendly candidates.

The strength of the turnout is probably the reason why Occupy leaders are in no hurry to take the next step and block roads in the city. Holding back gives the government the opportunity to respond to the public on the political reform road map. It will only be necessary to push the civil disobedience campaign to another level if there is no reaction from the authorities.

The movement’s leaders have said many times that Central will only be occupied if the government’s final election reform proposal to Beijing does not include a fair and open election and nomination mechanism. Nevertheless, some activists are calling for the action to be taken next week during the July 1 march.

Government officials in Hong Kong and Beijing have already criticized the referendum as “illegal” and without credibility, saying the voting system could have been manipulated. But according to Benny Tai, one of the founders of the Occupy Central campaign, the movement never claimed the vote carried legal weight. But he said the government must at least respond to demands from such a substantial number of the community.

Hongkongers will no doubt have another chance to express their views later this year or early next year after the government releases its proposals for the 2017 election, a move that could prompt the Occupy campaign to host another referendum of its own on the issue. Those results could be the trigger for the Occupy Central protest to be launched in the city’s central business district.

But the weekend’s referendum was more than just a vote on the best way to nominate candidates in 2017 — it was a vote on the legitimacy of Beijing’s rule over Hong Kong in the wake of the central government’s white paper. There is genuine public concern that residents need to stand up for the future of Hong Kong, or witness its uniqueness disappear.

Hong Kong people have a reputation for political apathy and for preferring stability over the turmoil that political conflict. And that’s why there was such high participation in the vote – Hongkongers will express their democratic views if there is way to do it with minimal effort. However small that step, it could be the start of greater political activity in the fight for Hong Kong’s autonomy, something the leaders in Beijing would be ill-advised to ignore.

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EJ Insight writer