Alpais Lam
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Lau Nai-keung says August 4 rally turned public opinion around. Photo: David Wong

Public opinion turns on anti-government protesters

Lau Nai-keung says officials should ride the tide to lay down parameters

Alpais Lam

The dissidents made a big mistake by staging a mass confrontation on August 4. They stormed the stage of a pro-police rally organised in the wake of a political row sparked by a video. The video, which went viral, showed a schoolteacher hurling verbal abuse at police officers at an earlier protest.

With police intervention, the August 4 confrontation ended with a lot of shouting but without violence. The reaction both in the traditional and new media was clearly in favour of the police and their supporters.

August 4 marked a watershed … the majority has broken the spell of the ‘spiral of silence’

August 4 marked a watershed in public opinion, as the majority has broken the spell of the infamous "spiral of silence". Many in this group have in the past been afraid to speak their mind for fear of being stigmatised and victimised. Now they have come out en masse, knowing they are not alone.

Incidentally, a group of professionals and academics calling themselves the Silent Majority for Hong Kong came forward a few days later and organised a campaign against Occupy Central.

Seizing the moment, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying visited Tin Shui Wai last Sunday, his first trip there since being elected, to fulfil an election pledge. This time, the situation was not that peaceful. During the visit, his resolute stand on various issues astonished many people. If my observation is correct, this will be the start of a new phase in his term.

This vindicates my assertion that mainstream Hong Kong people badly want change, but not to the point of rocking the boat, never mind some kind of regime change as some dissidents would like. When our dissidents go too far, the silent majority will rise up and try to push them back, and this is what we are witnessing now.

So much for the good news. The problem is that a lot of harm has already been done. Undoing it will take strenuous efforts.

Take the well-planned showdown over constitutional development leading to universal suffrage in 2017. Is there any way to avoid it, apart from the central and SAR governments making an unconditional surrender?

Or, to sound more realistic, should the central and Hong Kong governments wish to negotiate a surrender, who should they talk to? Let's deal with the more modest, more peaceful and, above all, more organised Occupy Central movement. Can Benny Tai Yiu-ting guarantee he has the authority to negotiate a compromise and call the thing off? And can the authorities take that assurance seriously? The crucial point is that a confrontation is inevitable. A change of tide in public opinion can only limit the damage.

Now that public sentiment is more in favour of the establishment, the Hong Kong government should pay more attention to damage control. Upholding police authority is one example, and this was obviously the objective of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's statement of support a few days after the Mong Kok confrontation. Leung later put his support into action by ordering an investigation into the primary-school teacher at the centre of the row.

A more positive step is for the Hong Kong government to seize the opportunity to spell out the official parameters for constitutional development, to manage expectations. Unlike what our dissidents would like us to believe, according to the agreed rules in the Basic Law the ultimate authority for constitutional development in Hong Kong lies in Beijing's hands. Deviating from the Basic Law and challenging the central authorities will only be counterproductive.

This vital message has to be made known to the public, and the earlier the better, to stop any crazy ideas, groundless speculation and unrealistic expectations.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Public opinion turns on anti-government protesters