HK rally turnout much smaller than last year's

Protesters marching through the streets of Hong Kong during the annual pro-Democracy rally.
Protesters marching through the streets of Hong Kong during the annual pro-Democracy rally. PHOTO: EPA

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's annual march against Chinese rule attracted a fraction of last year's turnout as democracy activists struggled to muster support after a year of protests failed to wring political concessions out of Beijing.

Aside from summer heat of more than 32 deg C, activists were battling internal divisions, protest fatigue and concern that no rally can sway the Communist Party to allow the Hong Kong people to freely choose their city's leader.

Some of the people who took to the streets yesterday seemed resigned after last year's 79-day umbrella protest movement failed to bring China to the negotiating table regarding its plans to vet the candidates for the first direct election of Hong Kong's Chief Executive.

"I don't think it is going to change a thing, it didn't do much in the past and is unlikely to change anything in the near future," said Mr Danny Tang, a 36-year-old secondary school teacher who attended the march for the fourth straight year with his wife and five-year-old son.

"It's unlikely to change anything under C.Y. Leung's government, but I do cherish my right to express my discontent," he added, referring to the city's current Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.

The protest comes less than two weeks after pro-democracy legislators blocked the China-backed proposal that would have let an elite committee screen candidates for the leadership election due in 2017.

It means the election will be scrapped and the next Chief Executive will be selected by the same panel that has chosen all three local leaders since the city's return to China in 1997 under the one country, two systems formula.

The rally organisers had predicted that 100,000 would attend yesterday's rally. The actual turnout was nowhere near that number.

The turnout, estimated by organisers at 48,000, was one of the lowest for the march marking the anniversary of Hong Kong's return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

"I'm not discouraged by the smaller numbers," said Ms Connie Wong, 20, who was marching with some fellow university students. "The march used to be one of the avenues we used to vent our grievances that got attention, but after the umbrella movement, that's changed."

Some protesters known as "localists", fighting for greater autonomy and even independence from China, held up signs calling for a "Hong Kong nation", while others waved Hong Kong's old colonial-era flags featuring a British Union Jack.

"We want real universal suffrage," the crowds chanted, with many holding yellow umbrellas, a symbol of last year's protest movement.

Speaking at a morning flag-raising ceremony yesterday, Mr Leung called for the financial hub to move forward. "Even though political reforms have taken up considerable effort and time, the Hong Kong government will strengthen economic development and improve people's livelihoods." BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'HK rally turnout much smaller than last year's'. Print Edition | Subscribe