He’s back! Benny Tai is making waves again. No sooner had the Occupy protest effect finally faded than Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting (戴耀廷) sparked another important political controversy. This time it’s about free speech and the nature of dictatorship.
Tai is a tenured member of the Law Faculty at the University of Hong Kong and the 2014 Occupy Movement in defense of democratic electoral reform was originally his idea. Its reverberations seem finally to have run their course with the defeat suffered by Hong Kong’s democracy movement in the special election held last month.
That election was necessary to replace four Occupy-generation Legislative Councilors who had added what Beijing decreed was too much defiant post-Occupy spirit to their swearing-in oaths after the September 2016 Legislative Council (LegCo) election. But activists and voters did not reaffirm that spirit and defy Beijing, as they had continued to do at every opportunity after the street blockades came down in late 2014. Instead of replacing the four disqualified legislators with more of the same, voters seemed finally to tire of the struggle and the promise of a directly-elected local government that had inspired the movement for over three decades.
The result on March 11 was a net loss of two LegCo seats and a sharp decline in pro-democracy voter turnout overall. Beijing loyalists claimed victory, as well they might. They represent Beijing’s ideal solution for Hong Kong in the form of popularly-elected loyalist political actors.