22 April 2019
Dozens of students (left) barge into the HKU Council meeting after learning about another delay in the appointment of the pro-vice chancellor. The incident has a lot in common with the Umbrella Movement (right). Photo: HKEJ
Dozens of students (left) barge into the HKU Council meeting after learning about another delay in the appointment of the pro-vice chancellor. The incident has a lot in common with the Umbrella Movement (right). Photo: HKEJ

The parallelism between HKU incident and Umbrella Movement

The repercussions of the incident last week at the University of Hong Kong, in which dozens of students barged into the meeting of the HKU Council after it decided to again delay the appointment of a pro-vice chancellor, continue to ripple.

In fact, the HKU appointment scandal has a lot in common with the 2014 Umbrella Movement that took the city by storm in terms of their causes, course of development and final outcomes.

The Umbrella Movement broke out last year because the people in power had insisted on imposing an undemocratic election system on the people of Hong Kong under the ridiculous framework of the 831 Resolution.

They were afraid that if the Hong Kong people were allowed to elect their own chief executive through a truly democratic process, someone they didn’t like might come to power.

In the HKU appointment scandal, the recruitment committee had already made its recommendation on the candidate for the pro-vice chancellor slot in accordance with standard and long-established procedures.

But the people in power have continued to stall the confirmation of the appointment through the maneuvers by their proxies in the HKU Council on such ridiculous grounds as having to wait for the advice of a deputy vice chancellor who isn’t even hired yet.

The reason why they have done so is because they don’t want a particular individual to take that job due to his political stance.

In the Umbrella Movement, what the protesters demanded was not any particular person for the job of the chief executive, nor were they seeking the pan-democrats coming to power.

All they wanted was a genuine and democratic election process through which they could choose their own leader, no matter who would be elected eventually.

It was the procedural justice they were concerned about, not the election outcome.

Similarly, when it comes to the appointment of the HKU pro-vice chancellor, people are raising their voices against the decision of the Council, not because they want any particular person for that job, but rather, because they are feeling indignant at the fact that the Council has obviously succumbed to external political pressure and violated standard procedures.

The Council is doing that simply because someone in power doesn’t like this particular candidate due to his political stance.

Many HKU staffers, students and alumni believe such politically motivated deviation from the long-established tradition regarding the appointment of key personnel has already taken its toll on the reputation and academic freedom of the university.

Before the outbreak of the Umbrella Movement, those who demanded genuine elections had already tried every possible legal way to make their voices heard.

It was only after all their peaceful efforts to draw the government’s attention had proven futile that they had no choice but to resort to civil disobedience.

The excessive use of force by the police against peaceful demonstrators in Admiralty on September 28, 2014 was the direct cause for the escalation of confrontation, which eventually led to the 79-day-long Occupy Movement.

The course of development of the HKU appointment scandal bears a striking resemblance to that of the Occupy Movement.

Students, alumni and those who are concerned about the state of affairs at the university first adopted peaceful and rational methods to express their dismay over the violation of due process by the Council.

Again, it was only after the Council shunned their demands and decided to stick to their ridiculous decision to delay the naming of the fifth pro-vice chancellor that angry students finally resorted to drastic measures and stormed the Council meeting.

Now that the situation has reached a stalemate, and the public is waiting for a sensible explanation from the Council as to why they have continued to delay the appointment.

Unless they can convince the public that they have strong grounds for delaying the appointment, or they confirm it promptly in accordance with standard procedures, it is almost for sure that the fight is likely to escalate in the days ahead.

In the post-Umbrella era, the only way the people in power can keep an unjust system going is by introducing more unjust measures.

Injustice only breeds more injustice, until it reaches a tipping point, when members of the public tell themselves enough is enough and start rising against the regime.

Therefore, it is foreseeable that as long as our autocratic leaders keep abusing their power and placing themselves above the law and procedures, controversies similar to that surrounding the HKU appointment scandal will continue to happen in the future on different levels of society, and in the end, even the most moderate dissidents will be driven to the path of civil resistance.

The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 1.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

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