Anti-'Occupy Central' rally significant for HK

Updated: 2014-08-19 07:20

By Lau Nai-keung(HK Edition)

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Anti-'Occupy Central' rally significant for HK

The much-anticipated anti-"Occupy Central" protest was held on Sunday afternoon. While different parties will continue to debate the actual turnout, the march was a considerable success. Before Sunday, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, the event organizers, predicted a turnout of over 120,000 people. This target appears to have been comfortably met. Opponents continue to discredit the protest, saying participants were either coerced or bribed into participating, but the true significance of the march was that it signaled a new mindset for the pro-establishment camp.

The anti-"Occupy Central" rally is not the first march organized by the pro-establishment camp, but previous iterations have never seen this level of support. Every time the pro-establishment camp organizes a demonstration, the organizers are inevitably accused of offering free lunches and transport to elderly citizens from the New Territories in order to lure them to join. Even if there have always been material incentives, which I doubt, the question still remains as to why this time the pro-establishment attracted so many more participants.

It is easy to predict the success of a protest. All you have to do is look at what people are sharing on Facebook, WhatsApp and increasingly, WeChat. Don't pay too much attention to your friends who have always been political. Look at what your less vocal contacts are saying. If those who have hitherto shown no particular interest in public affairs suddenly feel obliged to express their support, or otherwise for something, then it is significant.

The last time we observed such a situation was during the HKTV licensing controversy, and before that, the civic education controversy. These were situations in which everyone in society had an opinion, and felt strongly enough to express that opinion. Naturally, the social movements which followed them were huge.

A couple of weeks before the anti-"Occupy Central" protest, I began receiving WhatsApp and WeChat messages from friends. Many of these messages were sent from professionals or managers working in large corporations. In the past, they had refrained from expressing their personal views on public affairs. But this does not mean they did not care. They had presumably remained silent because they thought doing otherwise would not be suitable in the corporate world. As political and economic interests converge because of "Occupy Central", the anti-"Occupy" protest offers more conservative social sectors a legitimate opportunity to express their disapproval of the dissidents.

Aspects of the event's organization might have been messy at times, but this showed that the pro-establishment camp was stepping out of its comfort zone. Before the anti-"Occupy" campaign, there was a widespread belief within the pro-establishment camp that mass organizations and mobilizations were taboo. On the one hand, they lacked confidence and felt they could never achieve the same kind of results with rallies that the dissidents were achieving. On the other hand, they also felt the crowds were dangerous, uncontrollable and unpredictable. If a Pandora's Box was opened, they believed, all hell would break lose.

The positive reception given to the anti-"Occupy" protest, organized by the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, is going to take politics in the territory into a new era. The pro-establishment camp will no longer shy away from mass movements. This is a paradigm shift, with wide-ranging implications.

The dissidents will cry foul as they no longer hold the monopoly in mass rallies and demonstrations, but as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said when signing the petition against "Occupy", sometimes there is no neutral ground. The grey area is rapidly vanishing, but it is not the Alliance for Peace and Democracy that is making it disappear. The dissidents did it themselves.

D100, the opposition-leaning Internet radio station, established by Lam Yuk-wah, Albert Cheng and Morris Ho, has announced the dismissal of music program host Eric Ng Ka-lim. This is because Ng "dared" to be the master of ceremonies at the anti-"Occupy" protest. You cannot fire someone because he or she is gay, but you can if you don't like their political views. Whether we like it or not, this is the reality of life in Hong Kong today - and it is all out in the open.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 08/19/2014 page9)