Hong Kong Protest Leaders Withdraw Poll Plans, Apologize

October 26, 2014 Updated: October 26, 2014

HONG KONG—The de facto leadership, or what passes for it, of the occupy movement here withdrew plans to hold a ballot on the future of the movement on Sunday, the groups’ leaders saying that they had not consulted protesters widely enough, bowing in apology for the flap at a press conference.

Originally the three groups, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, and Scholarism, had proposed to conduct a public opinion poll by SMS. The vote was to have those at the three occupied areas in Hong Kong state their agreement or disagreement with different motions that would then be forwarded to the government for consideration.

It was adjourned, however, because of “different opinions regarding the format, motions and effectiveness” of the poll.  

“We believe a mass movement should act according to the will of the people and we apologize to the public for the lack of discussion among the participants before making the previous decision,” said a statement from the organizers.

There was no backing down from their occupation of key roads in Hong Kong, however.

“We must acknowledge that we’ve made a mistake today,” said Alex Chow, the head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, at a press conference. “We ask for the forgiveness of everyone.”

The group then linked hands and bowed.

Response among the protesters seemed mild and mostly supportive. The current shape of the movement evolved  spontaneously, with the traditional democratic leadership mostly taking a backseat to eager students and young people that rushed to the front lines, shut down traffic, and set up tents across major roads.

“It’s not a big deal, it’s just a small thing,” said Rainbow Shek, 30, a scriptwriter. “These things take time to organize. We shouldn’t have a negative opinion about it, because with more time it might be better.”

Shek added: “The key is that people understand it. Why are we asking for the things that we asked for originally?”

In an evening rally on Sunday the organizers bowed and apologized again, vowing to listen to the voices of the people before making decisions. A man in the crowd called out “You’ve done no wrong,” to a few cheers from the crowd.

The motions would have constituted the movement’s response to the Hong Kong government after the first talks between official representatives and protesters last Monday. Carrie Lam, the chief secretary, and staff, met with five representatives from the Hong Kong Federation of Students. The main upshot of the two hour-long, public debate, was that the government promised to submit a report on the sentiment in Hong Kong to an arm of the Chinese regime. Occupy leaders sought to gauge public sentiment on some of the content that should be included in that report.

The two motions that occupy leaders provided to the protesters were, firstly, to include in the government’s report the suggestion that China’s National People’s Congress, a rubber-stamp legislature, retract a decision it made on Aug. 31 which straitjacketed Hong Kong’s prospects for universal suffrage.

The second motion had two components: to abolish the system of “functional constituencies” in the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s parliament, which apportions blocks of seats to various industrial and social sectors, rather than opening the seats for competitive election; and to call for the public to be able to nominate candidates for the election of the chief executive in 2017.

At the moment the candidates for election to chief executive are chosen by a committee that is pro-Beijing. On Aug. 31, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued a decision that would revise this system, pending approval by Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

Two or three candidates would be chosen by a committee that Beijing controls, and then all Hong Kong voters could elect a chief executive from among these pre-selected candidates. Protesters have rejected this option, saying it offers them “fake democracy.”