Organisers of an anti-Occupy Central petition ventured into rural Tai Po district yesterday, hoping to rally support from indigenous villagers.
The entourage - targeting the villages of Sam Mun Tsai, Tai Mei Tuk and Lung Mei - was led by Alliance for Peace and Democracy spokesman Robert Chow Yung and included Tai Po district councillors and other pro-Beijing figures.
Chow described as a "world record" the 930,000 signatures opposing the civil disobedience movement collected so far, and said it reflected public opinion.
But Occupy Central co-organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting hit back yesterday, saying no matter how many people signed the petition, the demands of those seeking genuine universal suffrage could not be ignored.
It came after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Saturday added his signature to the petition, saying he opposed "illegal means to achieve any goals on political reform". Yesterday, Tai said: "If they think balancing out [Occupy's 'referendum' on reform] with a signature will make [these views] disappear, then they are just deceiving themselves."
He said it was legal for officials to sign the anti-Occupy petition, but criticised Leung, saying he did not have a clear understanding of what Occupy was about.
Chow said Leung was just expressing his "personal views" and that officials of all stripes were welcome to do the same.
At least five high-level officials have signed the petition so far, among them health chief Dr Ko Wing-man, Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim and development chief Paul Chan Mo-po. Chow denied any officials had been approached to sign and said they had all done so in a personal capacity.
About 780,000 Hongkongers voted in the pro-democracy movement's unofficial plebiscite last month. All three proposals included public nomination.
Meanwhile, the media descended on the three sleepy villages yesterday, as locals - some elderly, illiterate, or indifferent to politics - were invited to show their support for the alliance. Those who couldn't sign their names were told an "X" would suffice. "I actually don't know what the Occupy Central movement is about," Sam Mun Tsai shopkeeper Cheung Wing-wah said after signing the petition. He nodded when asked by the campaigners if he wanted a "stable and prosperous Hong Kong".
Others were motivated by patriotism. "We Hakka people oppose Occupy Central because we love our country and our home," said Wong Bak-sing, 76, former village chief of Tai Mei Tuk.
But on Hong Kong Island, protesters targeted five of the alliance's booths in Causeway Bay and Central. "They chanted slogans against us. Some people who wanted to sign the petition were scared off," said alliance spokesman Stanley Ng Chau-pei.
Protester Leung Kam-shing said many of the people who were signing didn't know what the petition was about.
The pro-Beijing alliance has begun a one-month campaign to denounce the Occupy Central movement, which plans to rally protesters to block the main roads in Central if the government fails to offer a reform plan for the 2017 chief executive race that it deems satisfactory.
"Everyone's objective - including the government and the pan-democrats - is the same, and that is universal suffrage," Chow said. "The only difference is in method."
The alliance will report the results of the campaign to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor today.
Additional reporting by Phila Siu