Is this goodbye to Occupy Central? Co-founder Benny Tai admits, 'We failed'
'We failed', admits leader of civil disobedience group, as he says date for sit-in will be chosen to cause 'minimal damage' to the HK economy
Jeffie Lam and Joyce Ng
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Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting surprised Hongkongers yesterday by suggesting the civil-disobedience campaign had been a failure "up to this point" and that public support for its planned mass sit-in was waning.
His comments in an interview with the Bloomberg news agency came just two days after he and others declared Hong Kong had entered "an era of civil disobedience" after Beijing announced a restrictive framework for the 2017 chief executive election.
In later comments to the South China Morning Post, he said it might be easy for people to vent their anger over Beijing's decision in rallies such as the one on Sunday, but determined civil disobedience might be another thing.
"I could not press Hongkongers for that, and they might need to think about that themselves," he said.
The Occupy Central movement tried to play down Tai's comments. A statement from the secretariat of the movement said it would "definitely not back down" and would go ahead with the plan to rally at least 10,000 people to block the main roads in the business district to protest against the lack of "genuine democratic reform" for the 2017 election.
Tai told Bloomberg that Occupy's strategy to get Beijing to agree to a set of universal suffrage arrangements that met international standards had failed.
"Up to this point, we failed. What we planned is that we use the threat of the action to create tension," he said.
Beijing's strong stance meant "the number of people joining us will not be as big as we expected, because of the very pragmatic thinking of Hong Kong people", Tai, who had previously voiced confidence that 10,000 protesters could be mobilised, was quoted as saying.
He also said Occupy organisers would pick a date for the mass sit-in that "would cause the minimal damage to Hong Kong's economy". Bloomberg speculated this could mean the protests would be held on a public holiday or over a weekend, with critics raising questions over the impact of the campaign.
Dr Chan Kin-man, an Occupy co-organiser, told the Post Tai's pessimistic tone was "not an accurate representation" of the prevailing mood in the movement.
"Of course there are some pragmatic citizens who believe that there is no need to carry out Occupy Central as the National People's Congress Standing Committee has ruled out universal suffrage," he said. "But I have received many emails from moderate people who are angered by the decision, saying they are now more determined than ever to join the movement."
Another founding member, the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, said the movement was ready for a long struggle. "The battle is only halfway through. It's too early to give up," Chu said.
Chan said the movement might choose a public holiday to begin the occupation in order to allow supporters reluctant to break the law to take part. "We are talking about days of occupation - it's not only a one-day action."
Watch: Occupy Central leaders promise civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong
Chan agreed with Tai that the movement had failed to change Beijing's mind during its deliberations on electoral reform.
"I am of course very disappointed … but I have already accepted the reality," Chan said. "We wanted to change Beijing's stance but their decision could not have been any worse. There is no shade of grey between genuine and fake universal suffrage."
Meanwhile, Song Zhe, commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, met 70 consular officials to explain Beijing's stance on the electoral reform plan.