Thousands brave heat, smog in suffrage rally

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2007, 12:00am

Thousands of people braved scorching heat and high air pollution to pack into Victoria Park under a sea of colourful umbrellas yesterday to press for universal suffrage.

'One person, one vote. This is the only way to go. Bravo, Hong Kong,' the crowd shouted as people raised yellow and blue umbrellas in the air in the shape of 2-0-1-2.

The rally came before the three-month government consultation on suffrage closes on Wednesday.

The participants later marched through the streets on Hong Kong Island with open umbrellas. But some passers-by shouted at marchers for blocking traffic as the procession wound its way towards government headquarters in Central.

Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah, one of the organisers, said 5,580 people had joined the rally. The organisers claimed 7,000 had joined the march while police said the rally and the march drew crowds of 4,450 and 4,600 respectively.

He said they had to speed up the event and stop people from joining the rally shortly after 2pm, because many who had stood in the park for a long time were becoming impatient.

The lawmakers had hoped for a turnout of 10,000.

Twenty-three pan-democrat legislators, who organised the event, said they would apply to Guinness World Records for recognition for the 5,580 umbrellas opened simultaneously. There was no previous record and they hoped that this would be recorded as the first mark.

Former chief secretary and candidate for the Hong Kong Island seat in a Legislative Council by-election, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, said the turnout showed people's strong aspirations for universal suffrage in 2012.

But she left the march soon afterwards to have her hair done. Mrs Chan explained that she had an appointment yesterday evening.

A middle-aged woman nearby criticised her brief participation as a shame. Mrs Chan said she would not mind as not everyone would support her bid for an open society.

A spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said the government was sincere and determined to implement universal suffrage according to the Basic Law.

The spokesman said it was important for political parties and different quarters of the community to keep an open mind and be accommodating, saying consensus could only be forged through rational and pragmatic public discourse.

Another Legco by-election candidate, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, said she respected the organisers' commitment to universal suffrage.

Mrs Chan, speaking on ATV Newsline yesterday, said she had not always been at liberty to express views on democracy during the leadership of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

She refused to divulge the advice she had given to Mr Tung, but said she had never strayed from the view that Hong Kong should move steadily towards the goal of universal suffrage.