The mood on the streets of Hong Kong this National Day is less about celebration than protest. There are official ceremonies and concerts planned, but it is on the demonstration-blocked thoroughfares in critical parts of the city that attention is focused. Tens of thousands more people will join as the day progresses, raising the temperature of discontent. These are circumstances unfamiliar to authorities and those protesting; image, reputation and the business and investment climate rest on avoiding chaos and confrontation. Criticism of the response of riot police on Sunday has prompted authorities to adopt a softly-softly approach. Demonstrators have been all but given free rein of key roads in the busiest districts. They are doing so illegally and disrupting traffic, public transport and the livelihoods of affected shop owners and businesspeople. Without clear leaders among the protesters, negotiation is next to impossible. On two points of protest there is no issue: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's resignation is sought, as is a rethink of Beijing's decision on the way the chief executive is elected in 2017. The central government has made clear that neither is negotiable. It is not in Hong Kong's interest that the stalemate continues; as city authorities said yesterday, the disruption to lives and livelihoods is unwarranted and damaging. Delaying the second round of public consultation on political reform, as Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet- ngor has hinted could happen, would hopefully buy time for the government to come up with a better strategy, but is unlikely to placate the demonstrators. The behaviour of the protesters has been exemplary - they have been good-natured and peaceful. Hallmarks of days-long protests overseas, vandalism and littering among them, have been absent. But the longer the stand-off continues, the more risk there is of the Occupy movement being hijacked by radicals. Irate citizens may want to take the law into their own hands, as happened early yesterday when a man drove at protesters in Mong Kok. Without obvious leaders, the protesters are in no position to do more than stage sit-ins, hold banners and chant. Yet Leung and other officials need to have a way of talking to them. Pan-democrat politicians should step forward and give a voice and base from which to rationally discuss concerns. As protests escalate today, there is no better time for them to take charge.