'Protest fatigue' in Hong Kong as activists struggle over strategy

'Protest fatigue' in Hong Kong as activists struggle over strategy

HONG KONG - A disappointing turnout at Hong Kong's first democracy rally since the end of mass street demonstrations shows the city is suffering from "protest fatigue" and new longer-term strategies are needed to drive reform, analysts say.

A procession of yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the democracy movement, edged slowly through the centre of the city on Sunday afternoon - the first time demonstrators had gathered after more than two months of street blockades ended in December when protest camps were cleared.

Organisers said that 13,000 people attended the march - with police estimating 8,800 - far below the 50,000 hoped for and a fraction of the 100,000 who took to the streets at the height of the rallies.

China has pledged that Hong Kong can choose its own leader for the first time in 2017, but says the candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which campaigners dismiss as "fake democracy".

In the face of their failure to achieve any concessions over political reform, some supporters are now questioning whether it's worth taking to the streets.

"Beijing has played the game quite smartly. They have convinced most Hong Kong people that even if they were to replay Occupy Central, that would not be sufficient to sway Beijing," says political analyst Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The city is now divided over whether to accept Beijing's version of universal suffrage - which will go before Hong Kong lawmakers this year - and hope for improvements later, or to veto the plans, said Lam, who added that a "tangible roadmap" from the democracy camp could help galvanise public support.

With little chance of a sudden change of mind from Beijing on reforms, student activists and campaigners are advocating longer-term strategies.

The founders of the Occupy Central group have said they are now pushing for greater education about the democracy movement and a social charter.

There is also a drive to get young voters to the polls and student leaders elected.

"The movement should be done in a different way if going to the streets to protest doesn't work," says 33-year-old computer programmer Robert, who was a regular at the protest camps but who did not attend Sunday's march.

"We can try to make a difference within the system. Can student activists try to influence others by joining lower level elections, then make changes as they move up the ranks?" Robert says he has turned his back on the street protests because, in his view, they made no difference.

"I just don't have the motivation. Occupying the roads was the most radical thing I have ever done, and still nothing was achieved," he told AFP.

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