21 September 2019
Police and court bailiffs were used by the government to help clear the Occupy sites. Photos: AFP, HKEJ
Police and court bailiffs were used by the government to help clear the Occupy sites. Photos: AFP, HKEJ

What next when the ‘authority’ of police and courts is used up?

The completion of street clearance operations in Causeway Bay and outside Legco has put an end to the Occupy movement that lasted for more than two months, and peoples’ daily lives appeared to have returned to “normal”. However, nobody can say how long this “normal” can last as the idea of “occupation” has already taken root in the public mind. The clearance of the occupied areas could, in fact, mark the beginning of the next chapter in the local civil resistance movement.

The so-called “shopping” parades and Christmas caroling tours that were seen recently in Mongkok and Causeway Bay are some of the striking examples of how the resistance movement has assumed a new form. Some protestors even go to greater lengths to cause public disturbance deliberately — for example, by pretending to tie their shoelaces or bending down to pick up coins in the middle of the main road.

These are in fact a continuation of the Occupy movement. The only difference is that protestors are now moving around among different areas and districts in packs, instead of occupying the same place regularly. Some critics have begun to refer to these actions as “mobile Occupy movement in its infancy”, that could cause even more serious drain on police resources than regular occupations because officers are now constantly being kept on the run.

Perhaps due to concern over these incalculable moves, the Christmas countdown ceremony at Canton Road and the New Year’s Eve countdown at Times Square, which have been held annually for the past 20 years, are being cancelled, according to sources. However, the cancellation of large public events, while politically expedient in the short term, can’t go on forever.

As the administration is about to launch the second stage of public consultation on the 2017 chief executive election, which is bound to spark another wave of controversies, does that mean the Lunar New Year fireworks show next year is going to be cancelled as well?

Undoubtedly, in order to get to the bottom of the issue, the SAR government and Beijing must take the bull by the horns and sincerely address public aspirations over universal suffrage, or else the mass popular resistance movement will simply continue in different forms indefinitely.

Last week the Hong Kong Federation of students called on the people to express their political discontent by paying taxes in multiple cheques and paying public housing rent on the last day before deadline. Some citizens even hoisted gigantic banners that read “I want a genuine election” or “Down with CY” on hill tops, bridges or even over their own balconies. Civil disobedience actions have indeed thrived across the territory, some of them legal, and some of them not, but all of them are hard to trace. All these actions are aimed at expressing public disapproval and causing trouble for the government, and there is nothing the Chief Executive and his inner circle can do about that.

Still, some argue that such actions can at best ruffle the government’s feathers but won’t be able to put any real pressure on it. It is perhaps true that while hundreds of protestors did take to the street, the vast majority of the public, who might be sympathetic towards the movement, are at best paying lip service.

But let’s not forget that in recent years radical and populist political parties are finding an increasingly receptive audience in the community, especially among the younger generation. During the Legco election in 2012, these parties got around 260,000 votes, making up 15 percent of the total.

Given that the political atmosphere in Hong Kong has tightened in past two years due to a chain of controversial events such as the turmoil surrounding the Moral, Civic and National Education syllabus, public discontent over the Mainland Individual Visit Scheme, the white paper on “One Country, Two Systems” issued by the State Council, the “831″ resolution made by the National Peoples’ Congress Standing Committee, and of course, the recent crackdown on the Occupy movement, radical political groups are likely to get even more popular among the public.

Some estimate that the groups might be able to snap up 20 percent of the total votes in the next election, making them a formidable political force to be reckoned with.

Moreover, even though the popularity of the Occupy movement had shown signs of decline in its last days, poll results suggested that 30 percent of the public still supported the movement until its very end. And many of the supporters are registered voters. Thirty-percent might be considered a minority, but that is enough to constitute a civil society group which the government cannot afford to antagonize in the long run.

“Mobile Occupy” and other civil disobedience actions can keep the battle spirit alive. When another political controversy arises in the future, it will then be easy for the movement to gather momentum again as long as it has a steady audience standing firmly behind it.

To be honest, the political credibility and approval ratings of the current administration are so low that it had to rely on the police and court orders to defuse the Occupy movement. However, using the law enforcement agency and the courts to resolve political issues is by no means a long-term solution.

By doing so the image and credibility of the police as well as the impartiality of our judiciary will continue to diminish, and once their “authority” is used up, it will spell an even bigger governing crisis for C Y Leung’s government, and the fabric of the entire Hong Kong society will be shaken.

The political reform regarding the 2017 CE election has entered a delicate moment, and I believe it is time the Hong Kong government and Beijing step forward and deal with the current political turbulence properly with wisdom and open-mindedness.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 16.

Translation by Alan Lee

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A bailiff (right) announces a court injunction before clearing the roadblocks in Admiralty last week. Pro-democracy activists have vowed to return. Photos: AFP, HKEJ

Leung Chun-ying will face a bigger crisis if he continues to ignore popular aspirations and seeks short-term fixes to ride out the democracy movement. Photo: Bloomberg

Researcher at SynergyNet