South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Rick Tang says protesters’ conduct has been largely exemplary but their demands remain unrealistic. They should leave now – or be made to leave – so we can begin to build a solid democratic system within the Basic Law
The young people who have been occupying the main arteries of Hong Kong have acted in a responsible manner. Most of them exercise restraint. They keep the occupied areas clean. They remain calm. But they have overstayed their welcome. They must now clear the roads, or be cleared by force.
The police also have exercised the utmost restraint. They display first-class discipline. They plead with the protesters patiently again and again to clear certain areas. I dare say no other country has a police force which displays such self-control and chooses reconciliation over force. Hong Kong should be very proud of our police force.
Yes, tear gas canisters were fired over the protesters. Eyewitnesses have different accounts of what happened. Some say the police fired the canisters without warning, or that even with warning, they used excessive force. Others say the protesters charged at the police, who then used pepper spray to ward them off, but to no avail, leading to a decision to use the tear gas.
Regardless of what really happened, both the protesters and the police have exercised restraint thereafter. Hong Kong should be proud of both groups.
Regrettably, the local media displayed only images of the firing of canisters but not what happened before. Hong Kong looked like a war zone.
The leaders of this unlawful assembly must be held accountable for the chaos, loss of income, inconvenience and reputational damage suffered by the Hong Kong people.
They misled their followers from the start. Their main demand was that the candidates for the next chief executive election must be nominated by the public. Their demand is legally flawed and politically naive.
It is legally flawed because it is unconstitutional. Article 45 of our Basic law is quite clear that the candidates are to be nominated by the nomination committee. After such nomination, the chief executive is to be elected by the public, each person exercising one vote. The authority to nominate the candidates is solely vested in the nomination committee and not in the public. This point has been confirmed unequivocally by the well-respected Bar Association. Thus, meeting the protesters’ demand would require an amendment of the Basic Law, which is a serious matter and should not be done on a piecemeal basis.
Further, protest leaders’ desire to galvanise public pressure on the central government to back down from its declared position is a useless tactic. Beijing did not back down from Britain’s Iron Lady prime minister during the negotiation for the handover of Hong Kong, nor more recently from US attempts to contain the rise of China through its military bases in Asia and the Pacific.
Hong Kong must face the reality that universal suffrage is not going to be achieved in one go in 2017. We must treasure our right to vote our chief executive into office by the one-man, one-vote mechanism, even though the candidates are to be nominated by the nomination committee. We must seize this opportunity to build a sound foundation for universal suffrage on the premise of the Basic Law.
What, then, are the foundation stones with which to build a sound democratic system for Hong Kong?
First, we must eliminate corporate voting. Under the current system, tycoons who own multiple companies have exceedingly high voting power, through the companies they own, over other legitimate commercial enterprises. They put their favourites in the commercial sector of the Election Committee. This must be rectified.
Second, we must expand the voter base in the functional constituencies. For example, in the legal profession, paralegals or legal executives working for law firms do not have a vote to choose their representative. Likewise, law professors who are not members of the local Bar Association or Law Society do not have a vote. There are similar issues with the other professions as well.
Third, we must allow party politics. This means allowing the chief executive to be a member of a political party. Under the current system, the chief executive has no political backing in the legislature and cannot even form a coalition government. He is set up to fail. Most politicians habitually attack the executive branch but offer no alternative to any initiative. Unless this is changed, taxpayers’ money will continue to be wasted.
Fourth, we must redraw the boundaries for geographical representation. Some of our legislators are elected by small numbers of geographical voters. Their constant display of irresponsible behaviour is clear for all to see.
Fifth, we must formulate laws to regulate political contributions. As a democratic form of government is being developed, advocacy or political lobbying follows naturally. Some advocacy is healthy and necessary, but not when it involves buying influence with money. Hong Kong can learn from other countries.
These are pressing issues we must work on and they do not breach the Basic Law. Why don’t we start laying the foundation for our democratic system in preparation for the future?
The current unlawful occupation is getting out of control. The three Occupy Central leaders and the student leaders admit they have no say over the crowds. The occupants fight with each other depending on how confrontational they are. There have been increasing conflicts and fights between the occupants and ordinary citizens.
It is very questionable whether the so-called leaders, singly or jointly, have any influence over the protesters.
The consequence? We have a huge mob in the making.
To prevent deterioration of the current situation into mob violence, the police must clear the protesters by necessary force, sooner rather than later. Hong Kong has been hurt badly enough.
The chaos, injuries and damage to Hong Kong were all predictable. The leaders of this movement must be held accountable by law. I hope they will be humble enough to admit their gross error of judgment and surrender voluntarily to the police to be charged.
If not, they must be charged with inciting the public to unlawful assembly and other illegal activities.
Rick Tang is convenor of the China Rule of Law Forum