Just one month ago, protests in Hong Kong were in full swing: it was mid-October, and fresh clashes between the protesters and the police were taking place in both Admiralty and Mongkok. Even then, however, some worried that fatigue could take a toll on activists and nuisances created by the protest might erode the public’s patience. Those worries have now become a reality, as a poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong recently showed.
Almost 55 percent of the interviewees told the University that they are against the movement and 82.9 percent responded they would prefer the protest to end. The latest poll found that 28 per cent support the movement, a significant fall from one month ago when another poll conducted by the same institution showed that 37.8 percent of respondents either strongly supported or quite supported the Occupy Movement. At the time, 35.5 percent were opposed to it.
As the latter data suggests, there has never been a complete agreement over the protests: traffic jams, blocked streets and a feeling that protesters are going too far in challenging authorities have been a feature of the debate on the Occupy Movement since it started.
Over time, the lack of breakthroughs and the rigid line adopted by the local administration have added to the movement’s decline in popularity. The latest disappointment came last week, when a mission that had once again raised the public’s attention quickly sank. On Saturday, three student leaders led by Alex Chow, the Hong Kong Federation of Students’ leader, tried to fly to Beijing to meet China’s Premier Li Keqiang. They were not even allowed on the plane to the Chinese capital: their permits had been invalidated, a Cathay Pacific spokesperson said.
As the public’s patience wanes, fatigue is denting the stamina of those out on the streets. When the police started clearing part of the main protest site last week, the resistance of the protesters was minimal and in a recent poll compiled by students and analyzed by the South China Morning Post nearly half of the protesters – 958 out of 2,183 – said they are ready to demobilize if the movement’s leaders ask them to do so (another 963, however, argued that they would stay no matter what the leaders say.)
Even Jimmy Lai, the tycoon who owns the pro-Occupy Apple Daily, has argued that it might be time to wrap up tents and leave the streets. “People are getting tired,” he told the media. “We cannot exhaust the goodwill of the people.” Mr. Lai said he believes that students should take a rest today so they can fight tomorrow: “We should retreat when the momentum is there, while our determination and will are strong.”
To be sure, few ever really believed that the government would cave in. At best, some hoped for a compromise. Many just wanted the government to know that they are not willing to accept an electoral law without meaningful universal suffrage and resent many features of today’s Hong Kong, from ever-rising rents to the increasing influence of the mainland.
Faced with an uncompromising local government and a more uncompromising central one, it is rather unsurprising that the protest is reaching the point where it is not able to catch the people’s attention anymore. But watch out: as the issues that fuelled the protest remain unsolved, dissatisfaction may linger for a long time.