Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai has apologised for and retracted his suggestion that all participants in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests should be pardoned.
The lawmaker put forward the idea in an interview with Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao published on Tuesday. He argued that after Carrie Lam takes office as Chief Executive, she should pardon all Occupy protesters, along with the eight police officers jailed or charged for incidents during the protests. He said the move could mend rifts in society – suggesting the reconciliation of the government with the pro-democracy camp.
But the suggestion soon received opposition from many in the pro-democracy camp, and even the pro-Beijing camp.
Lawmaker Ted Hui, from Wu’s party, also publicly criticised the suggestion. Wu soon clarified that the comments were his personal opinion, not his party’s.
Around 7pm on Tuesday, Wu made an apology after the party held an urgent meeting.
“I had wished to say that any government must confront the fact that the source of the social split lies in the failures of the political system,” he said. “The government must reflect on the failure of the political system made apparent by the Occupy protests it caused.”
“But my suggestion was not clearly thought through. I did not have a detailed discussion with my party – I did not think of possible reactions from society to my suggestion – I deeply apologise,” he said.
Wu stressed that the cause of the Occupy protests was Beijing’s decision in August 2014 to limit Hong Kong’s elections.
The decision by the Standing Committee of China’s top legislature stated that Hong Kong people could choose their leader using one vote per person, but only after a nomination committee largely controlled by Beijing picked two to three candidates.
“To mend social rifts and seek reconciliation, the decision must be retracted, [and] democratic reform must be restarted,” he added.
But Wu stood by his suggestion that the government should set up a special committee to investigate the cause of the Occupy protests.
Veteran lawmaker James To Kun-sun, Wu’s party colleague, said he accepted the apology.
Wu became a lawmaker in 2012. He was chosen as the party’s leader in December last year, taking the post after former lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing.
Wu was not the first democrat to suggest a reconciliation between Hong Kong activists and Beijing.
Former lawmaker Lau Chin-shek was the founding member of the United Democrats of Hong Kong – before it was merged into the Democratic Party – and a standing committee member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. In June 2004, he made a surprise suggestion for the democrats to reconcile with the central government.
He was criticised for trying to please Beijing in exchange for being allowed to visit his elderly mother in China in 2000 – after being banned for years – with the help of then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. The former chairman of the Alliance, Szeto Wah, even indirectly called him “Judas” at the time.
Lau voted abstain in the 2005 government democratic reform bill, which was voted down by all other democrats. He failed to win re-election in 2008.
In February, he appeared in an election rally to support then-chief executive contender Carrie Lam.