Hong Kong turns a new page as thousands occupy main roads to press for genuine democracy

Occupy Central has galvanised a whole generation of young people to stand up for their right to elect their leaders.

WHEN law professor Mr Benny Tai Yiu-ting wrote in his newspaper column in January last year that a campaign similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement be launched in Hong Kong to press for genuine democracy, he could not have known what was to come next.

As The Young Reporter goes to press on October 12, the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement is in its third week and has disrupted parts of Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. Protesters, mainly tertiary students, have blocked key roads, causing traffic jams affecting local businesses and tens of thousands of commuters.

Occupy Central, conceived as an adult-led civil disobedience campaign, has joined forces with a student-led movement to challenge the establishment's view that Hong Kong should follow what the government called a step-by-step approach in advancing democracy within a framework laid down by Beijing.

The defining moment came shortly

after 5pm on September 28, when police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters trying to break a police cordon outside government headquarters at Admiralty. Protesters' use of umbrellas to shield themselves from the spray has since prompted international media to dub the protests the "Umbrella Revolution," a misnomer, some say, in that the protesters are not trying to overthrow the government.

The movement's trigger was a resolution passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on August 31 that would allow Beijing to decide candidates in future chief executive elections in and after 2017.

Pro-democracy activists regard the decision as a "betrayal of universal suffrage," as candidates not favoured by Beijing would have no chance of being nominated.

As the protests continue, the gap between lawmakers is widening. Pro- democracy legislators have vowed to launch a "non-cooperation campaign" causing their pro-government

counterparts to postpone the opening of the new legislative session originally scheduled for October 8.

In the community, some families and friends are split. Although the protest areas have taken on a carnival atmosphere, clashes have also broken out over the protesters method of civil disobedience.

Some businesses in the occupied areas claimed they have suffered colossal losses and taxi and lorry operators have complained of severe impact on their livelihood.

While protesters feel Occupy Central is an opportunity to demonstrate their yearning for true democracy, there are growing concerns that their insistence in pressing demands - NPC revoking its decision and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying stepping down – that are unlikely to be realised and continuing with the occupation may cause public resentment, eventually inviting a government crackdown.

Former Secretary for Education and Manpower and former Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, has likened Occupy Central participants to the notorious Red Guards who did much damage on the mainland during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

If students wished "to demonstrate the spirit of sacrifice in their quests for democracy," they should quit their studies altogether instead of simply boycotting classes for a week, he said.

Mr Robert Chow, spokesman for the Alliance for Peace and Democracy campaign against Occupy Central, said radical teachers might have brainwashed students.

Rejecting their concerns, former Deputy Secretary General of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, Ms. Willis Ho Kit-wang, said she believed students were critical thinkers and they could make decisions independently.

Sin and Jim, both 16 years old and members of the political reform concern group at the S.K.H. Bishop Mok Sau Tseng Secondary School, said they would strive for "genuine universal suffrage" no matter how hard the struggle would be.

But not everyone has been taking part in the class boycott. A science major at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who would only be identified by his surname Chow, said he had mixed feelings about the protests. "Though it is a special occasion for us to learn about politics, I am worried about it affecting my studies," he said.

Ms Lee, a 17-year-old student at the Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee Kung Yik Secondary School, said she was afraid her parents would disapprove of her participation in the class boycott.

Leading up to the Occupy Central movement, Mr Oscar Lai Man-lok, spokesman of Scholarism, said student activists are independent of the three Occupy Central co-founders.

Mr Lai is certain of upping the ante if the government continues to snub their demands.

"Every society group has its own autonomy, goals to achieve and its own ways of doing things. So organisations just work together in a way coordinating with each other," Mr Tai said.

"When the students act, they do not do it just for fun, they are taking it very seriously," Mr Tai added. "Students are a democratic force themselves and Occupy Central Committee is more like the coordinator."

As things stand, there are no signs of a back-down by either the government or the protestors that would pave the way for an end to the occupation. Will there be a peaceful resolution, a long-drawn out protest that turns the community against the students or a crackdown by force?

In an interview with TVB broadcast on October 12, Mr Leung, said the government did not want to use force to clear protesters from the streets unless it had to. The police were trying different methods to get protesters to leave, he said. If a clearance operation had to be taken, police would use minimum force.

Regardless of how Occupy Central ends, the movement has undoubtedly energised and united a generation of young people who have demonstrated they are ready for radical action to push their demands for genuine democracy with far reaching implications for Hong Kong and China.

Comments

Key Players

Pan-democrats vow to veto proposal for 2017 election