Impasse: Waiting it out is not good enough

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The question HT is asked most often is: ‘Where do we go from here?’ Or its variants, “When will the end?”, “What is going to happen?” and the like. Emily Lau recently addressed a crowd of her democracy promoting peers from around the region and, like most pundits in Hong Kong, had no answers. One imagines the best minds the Government has are burning the midnight oil, racking their brains and hopefully have come up with something better than ‘wait them out without creating martyrs’. Even if that works and the streets are cleared, the underlying grievances will remain driving further eruptions.

The Occupy Central/Umbrella Movement

Many leaders in the democracy movement are calling for a withdrawal. Today, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is reported to suggested protesters should consider the option of leaving. Mr. Lai is not known for giving up easily, to say the least. If anyone has staying power for this fight, it is the founder of Next Media. However, he knows that losing momentum can be fatal to a movement.

The Occupy/Umbrella leaders, of course, don’t command the street. If they led enough of it and had an alternative for the hardcore who also look to them (if such an intersection exists), they may be able to engineer the next phase in their protests.

Two things would help their cause immensely. First would be a declaration or manifesto – a clear and universal statement of values and aims that could serve as a galvanising and guiding proclamation for years to come. Not a Communist Manifesto or Declaration of Independence, but a well-crafted articulation that inspires the hardcore street and more casual supporter alike. It could be an anchor for opponents and potential supporters both to turn to for guidance whether attempting to negotiate with protesters or lead them. It is unclear as to whether or not the movement has a master of poetry or prose to create an awe-inspiring document, but one is sorely needed to coalesce the thinking of the people.

Second, the Umbrella Movement needs an alternate plan of protest. It must be daring, creative, and unpredictable. It must catch the attention of opponents, inflict some pain, and earn respect. A series of silly protests will not do, no matter how clever. They must be serious and well-executed. An example would be non-routine series of rotating strikes at strategic and tactically chosen targets of escalating importance. This would keep local and international media engaged, followers inspired and active, and opponents off guard and frustrated.

This would lend to the sense of ‘ungovernablitiy’ that is being engineered in LegCo (see past leader “The Pearl Harbor of LegCo’ and today’s “PWSC: Strike, counterstrike”). How China would react is another matter. They seem to be able to leave the pressure in Hong Kong and wait out the Hong Kong situation, the events of the last month showing there is little price to pay on the international scene. The Chief Executive’s team may be driven to distraction with continued Umbrella Movements, but Beijing is known to have infinite patience to play the long game.


Part of the inertia right now arises from the fact that everyone put forth their best ideas for reform over the past year. Most rightfully felt disappointed and angered when their ideas and hard work were dismissed with the White Paper. Even pro-government moderates must have felt angered and frustrated to have seen their efforts in good faith rendered irrelevant, making them wonder why they even try to help. No one has proposed anything by way of democratic reform for a month. Some have had the gall to ask why the students and democratic leaders haven’t come up with any new idea this past month. In case they hadn’t noticed, everyone has spent the currency in their ideas bank and are a little tapped out at the moment.

That being said, the nomination committee does seem to be one place where ideas can be revived and put into play. While ‘civil nomination’ was a mantra for some time, it isn’t mentioned much these days by anyone. Some think now that any form of genuine democracy, even if imperfect (is it ever perfect?) will do. As to what that looks like, one goes to the famous maxim of United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v Ohio (1964) on defining obscenity. There may not be a perfect definition or single international standard, but many people will agree with Stewart, claiming, “I know it when I see it.”

A nomination committee that broadly represented Hong Kong people through equal votes for each eligible voter would perhaps do the trick. A nomination committee that acted more like an electoral college may be an option. But the idea that it could be amended to include student representatives was ignored and rightfully so. The students didn’t want the bribe of a place at a tainted table – they want democracy.

The leadership

Perhaps the government is burning the midnight oil, masterfully crafting a solution that will catch student and Occupy leaders off guard by impressing people with its intrinsic appeal as a genuinely ‘good enough’, Stewartesque “I’ve seen it!”, acceptable and pre-approved by Beijing, answer to the big questions. Perhaps the government is quietly conducting insightful polling to test out ideas that could restore its legitimacy, provide a way forward, and get the street and pan-dems back negotiating in good faith with the support of their followers. Perhaps.
The people of Hong Kong have to hope the GOvernment has a better plan than to wait out the protests, anticipating isolated individuals will discredit the movement (like this week’s LegCo window breakers), and the police will not have any more missteps that create martyrs. Our local leaders need to transcend the patience of their Beijing masters and create real solutions soon. The ideas are all in their hands as it seems every thinker with access to a keyboard has submitted their best. It is time for the Government to show us theirs.