Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 07:58
The cult of ‘Occupy Central’
By Thomas Chan

If “Occupy Central” is a political event, it should involve political means in the deliberation and contention. More importantly it should have a focus. Of course its proponents and proposers would argue that it focuses on the political reform of Hong Kong, including the popular elections of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council (LegCo), which have been designated by the National People’s Congress (NPC) to take place in 2017 and 2020. However, the timetable for the popular elections is clear and the method of election is unequivocally based on universal suffrage. There seems basically no major controversial issue to be debated or contested.

Its proponents and proposers have argued that the popular elections have to be “true” ones, but they have difficulty in explaining what would make the election “truly popular”. Any popular election will require a procedure of candidate nomination and the nomination procedure will not be itself a popular election based on universal suffrage. Instead it will be based on some notion of representativeness agreed upon by the legislatures which are responsible for the enactment and approval of the relevant election law. The NPC has made it clear that there should be “a broadly representative nominating committee”, So far, despite many confusing arguments put forth by some of the proponents and proposers Hong Kong society is not clear what the “Occupy Central” movement is actually demanding. What are the criteria for the true popular election it embraces? Are there any specific proposals or blueprints for the implementation of the popular election for the Chief Executive that they are fighting for or against? The answers to all these specific questions are all nil.

The SAR government has not started the consultation process for the popular election of the chief Executive in 2017. There is no proposal for consultation, nor any concrete ideas being put forth by the government except the basic guidelines from the NPC, which are constitutionally binding on and beyond disputes in Hong Kong.

The “Occupy Central” movement is not demanding anything concrete and clear. It has not defined and explained its vague demand for “truly popular election” In this way it seems to appear to be more like a religious movement: it erects a god or faith that is beyond explanation, but demands the society to believe in it. Because the “truly popular election” cannot be explained, the society has to believe in the self-appointed “high priests” (the three proposers being a law scholar, a sociology associate professor and a Christian priest) and their “legitimacy” or “ability” to make interpretation(s) of the faith of “truly popular election”. It is not a political event by nature, but rather represents the emergence of a new cult for those who want or are indoctrinated to believe in the new faith. As such it is detaching itself from the mundane or secular debate and deliberation on politics in society. Unless we are interested in religion and especially its outlandish version of cultism, “Occupy Central” is irrelevant to the political process leading to the popular election of the CE in Hong Kong in 2017. It would serve mostly as a disruption rather than a contribution.

Any government should be tolerative towards any emergent religious cult or sect. Hong Kong is no exception. However, the government has to defend the rule of law in Hong Kong and it means that if the cult followers go beyond the law they should be reined in, and probably prosecuted by law depending on how seriously their actions have challenged the rule of law. The objective of the movement is to occupy the Central district, the CBD of Hong Kong. To occupy means to have control over it exclusively. Either they will occupy the private space of buildings and establishments. Or they will take over public space. In either case they would intrude upon private property and against public order. If the intrusion takes place in the park (like Chater Garden or Hong Kong Park), or in some remote open space (like those near the piers for outlying island ferries), or in a public structure like the former Central Market building, the government and the police should be restrained to give them chance to demonstrate their faith, in the same way as the Falun Gong. However if they disrupt traffic and stay on in the public space to occupy it without any intention to cooperate with the authorities in preserving public order in the interest of the general public, action should be taken to eradicate them and limited force should be used if they resist. A good balance of toleration and resolution is needed, but the rule of law should prevail.

The proponents and proposers of the movement speak of civil disobedience, but its non-political and cult nature has already removed the civil-ness from the movement, the civil nature and objective of the disobedience. If there is no common ground (the clear and commonly understood political objectives) for communication, for discussion and debate, the movement is only the demonstration of a one–way challenge of the government and its coming policy, the proposed method of election of the Chief Executive in 2017. It may be a protest, but a protest of undefined faith, not a protest that would necessitate political dialogue and compromise and thus constituting a political process.

If the proponents and proposers of “Occupy Central” would like to engage in any political process and escape from the trap of falling into a self-reinforcing cult of anti-reason, they should stop their activities and reorganize only after the SAR government start the consultation process for the election method to deliberate on and probably protest against the proposal coming out of the consultation process. Alternatively they should propose their own version of the election method for the society to deliberate. Doing none of these but insisting on mobilizing support for their undefined faith of “truly popular election”, it is either an effort to build up a cult of anti-reason faith or there is some ulterior motive, political or otherwise, behind. In both cases, a secular civil society should oppose.

The author is head of the China Business Center, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.