Leung gets thrown into the deep end
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his new administration are already embroiled in a political crisis that makes governance more difficult as hundreds of thousands of protesters took the streets yesterday, political scientists say.
Dissatisfaction with the government and Leung's illegal structures saga were among the most cited reasons that drove an estimated 400,000 people to take part in the annual rally, according to a mini-poll of 231 protesters conducted by the South China Morning Post.
The random sampling found 90 were first-timers on the march, while more than half felt taking part could help bring about change. About half were under 30.
Lai Yan-ho, convenor of march organisers the Civil Human Rights Front, said the high turnout was a vote of no confidence in Leung. 'This tells us he has never won the hearts of the people,' he said.
Leung should come clean on his illegal structures this week and accept an investigation by lawmakers, Lai added.
The estimated turnout was the third largest since 2003, when the public marched against the Article 23 national security bill, the post-Sars downturn and negative equity.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, senior lecturer with the department of politics and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the mass rally sent a clear signal that the new government would enjoy no honeymoon like its predecessor.
'This is a political crisis for Leung. I don't see anywhere else in the world where so many have taken to the street on the first day a government comes into office,' he said.
'Many people are targeting Leung Chun-ying, with many harsh slogans that save him no face.'
Choy said Leung should stop using 'political spin and lies' to cover up the illegal structures at his home on The Peak.
Dr Li Pang-kwong, a political scientist from Lingnan University, said it might not be a crisis but the massive turnout was definitely a warning sign.
'Leung apparently has less public trust than his predecessors Donald Tsang and Tung Chee-hwa enjoyed when they assumed office,' he said.
Li said governance difficulties would be deepened by the distrust and scepticism and Leung would have little room to manoeuvre except through introducing policies gradually to address public concerns.
During the march, many protestors chanted demands that Leung step down and cast doubt on his integrity in handling the illegal structures saga.
'I am disappointed with Leung as he seems to be only supporting the central government. He also played with words in addressing the public's concerns over his illegal structures,' said Helen Ma Ching-chau, a retired civil servant who is a regular participant in the July rallies.
The suspicious death of mainland unionist dissident Li Wangyang was also one of the main reasons cited for taking to the street, the Post poll found.
'I am so worried that we are becoming like the mainland when it comes to protection of freedom,' said a financial columnist working for a local economic journal who joined the march because of Li's death.
Many protesters were also concerned about Hong Kong freedoms being eroded amid suspicions of the central government meddling in the city's affairs and police powers to curb civil rights.
'I fear there is interference from the central government and its liaison office here,' Jerry Lee Chun-kit, 22, said. 'There are also censorship issues in the media as there are Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference members among the press' top management. We can no longer rely on the media to monitor the government. It is us, the crowd, we can depend upon now.'
About 200 journalists marched under the banner of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association. On Saturday, an Apple Daily reporter was taken away and questioned by police after shouting out a question on the June 4 crackdown to President Hu Jintao .
Hayes Chou Ching-yuen, a first timer at the protest, said he was angry about police abusing their power. Wheelchair-bound, the 28-year-old lost both legs after he was born.
'I decided to join the rally after watching the TV news on Saturday night. I cannot bear it anymore. I came out because I do not want the government to act that way,' he said, referring to police using pepper spray against protesters on Saturday.
Other social and livelihood issues were also raised by protesters.
A youth group called for a revamp of the housing policy.
Green Sense, a planning advocacy group, demanded the new government use Hong Kong's land resources wisely.
Three groups representing domestic helpers also joined the march, demanding that their pay be raised to HK$4,000 and a relaxation of rules that bar them from staying more than two weeks in the city after their contracts expire.
Hong Kong Cycling Alliance members were among the protesters, urging the government to improve road safety for cyclists and recognise the positive role of cycling in the transport system.
Animal rights group also called for stepping up enforcement against animal cruelty.
Reporting by Tony Cheung, Thomas Chan, Stuart Lau, Joyce Ng, Simpson Cheung, Cheung Chi-fai and Johnny Tam