22 August 2019
A man jogs past demonstrators' tents and a car covered in messages in Admiralty. The protest zone is now a vibrant community. Photo: Bloomberg
A man jogs past demonstrators' tents and a car covered in messages in Admiralty. The protest zone is now a vibrant community. Photo: Bloomberg

Why a de facto referendum is the solution

The High Court has extended the interim injunctions restraining protesters from continued occupation of roads in Mong Kok and obstruction of the entrance to the CITIC Tower in Admiralty. The applications were lodged by taxi drivers, mini bus operators and CITIC Tower tenants. All of these groups are yet to take actions to implement the order.

Meanwhile, three transportation firms have also filed for similar injunctions barring the occupation of Connaught Road Central and other roads in Admiralty.

Also, a signature campaign initiated by Silent Majority for Hong Kong, an anti-Occupy organization, has reportedly collected more than a million signatures since its launch.

All of these developments are in favor of the government which now has legal grounds as well as the “popular mandate” to clear the protest zones. Some people fear (and some may be hoping) that shortly after the conclusion of the APEC summit in Beijing, Hong Kong authorities will mount decisive operations to disperse protesters. But I think otherwise: unless Beijing changes its bottom line of “no bloodshed”, Occupy can continue to last for quite some time.

Many protesters have been buffeted by waves of tear gas and police batons at the beginning of the movement and they harbor deep resentment towards the authorities. Even if rubber bullets are fired, most of them would only seek shelter for a short while and soon return to the street.

We have witnessed such situation. Thousands of demonstrators assembled in Mong Kok on Oct. 18 and “recovered” the ground lost during the police’s sudden operation under the name of “removing road obstacles” in the early hours of that day. They have also fended off troublemakers, and despite the government’s repeated warnings that Mong Kok is becoming an orgy of violence, the majority choose to stay on.

Certainly the police can forcibly clear the zone in another “assault”-style operation, but the resilience of the movement means that people will gather swiftly to defend their front line.

More than one month into the sit-in, people in Admiralty have also got used to the life of going to school or work during the day and returning to Harcourt Road in the evening or even spending the night there. The number of protesters may drop to less than a thousand on a weekday morning but people will go back in the evening to make the place a vibrant community: a crime-free, pollution-free, clean and orderly Utopia. If there are no concrete concessions from the government, it’s hard to think of a trigger for the protesters to leave.

Some of the Occupy organizers are law professors and they can surrender themselves to the police in a gesture of respect for the rule of law. And, protesters are obliged not to act in defiance of injunctions as otherwise it will be a deliberate contravention of the law. But that doesn’t mean the government is standing on a moral high ground to use force under the name of law.

No one can foresee how long the movement will last but it won’t be surprising if protesters celebrate Christmas and New Year on the street. A recent on-site poll by Reuters found that up to 90 percent of the respondents said they are prepared to occupy roads for a year.

I believe key student groups like Scholarism and Hong Kong Federation of Students are in need of a solution for a decent withdrawal as no one can occupy streets for good.

It has been reported that student representatives are in discussion with members of the pan-democratic camp for a plan in which lawmakers quit their seats in the local legislature to trigger a de facto referendum. I think the plan must be carried out without further ado.

Since the Chinese authorities have hinted that scrapping the 2017 election framework is not an option and as some people have chosen to accept such a flawed package, it’s about time for a vote to gauge the public opinion whether Hong Kong should take Beijing’s offer first.

Result of such an open vote can also make most of the protesters return home and bring the movement to a pause, although it’s unrealistic to convince everyone in the street.

This article appeared on Nov. 5 in the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Translation by Frank Chen

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A commuter carrying a bag with a yellow ribbon walks past demonstrators’ tents in Admiralty. Photo: Bloomberg

Snacks sit in containers at a supplies station in Admiralty. Photo: Bloomberg

Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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