Donald Tsang

Order in chaos

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 July, 2009, 12:00am

The much anticipated July 1 annual rally has come and gone. The turnout figure, usually considered a barometer of anti-government sentiment, again stirred substantial controversy but the general perception was that this year's turnout was well below expectations.

According to the Civil Human Rights Front, there were more than 76,000 people, a huge contrast to the police estimate of 28,000 at the height of the rally, which only included those who left Victoria Park at the start of the march. Another estimate, from the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, put the turnout at about 30,000, counting only those who passed the Admiralty footbridge. This estimate was similar to that from the police, which effectively vindicated the way the police have measured the size of the rally over the years.

But, it is irrational to use the turnout for a single march as the sole yardstick for public sentiment and the intensity of the political climate because the numbers could vary depending on the source.

For example, the police only counted those who left from Victoria Park and not those who joined along the route. The academics, who used so-called scientific methods, only counted those who passed under the Admiralty pedestrian footbridge. Their estimates excluded all protesters who left the march along the route. So, their figures were not totally reliable.

It has been reported that many political heavyweights did not march beyond Southorn Playground in Wan Chai and spent most of their efforts fund-raising in Causeway Bay. So, should we not count them as marchers? Many who took to the streets on Wednesday were very much like them; they were part of the July 1 crowd, but were not necessarily active participants.

But, nevertheless, it was an undeniable fact that the turnout was rather disappointing for the democrats, considering the record turnout of 150,000 people at the June 4 rally. It could have been due to the fact that there was no obvious theme this year and that public discontent was not as serious as in 2003 and 2004. There had been a lot of talk about a failure in governance before the march, prompting many to expect a much bigger turnout this year. In fact, a turnout of less than 100,000 effectively dismissed all those claims.

Still, we should not overlook that this year's turnout was still the highest since 2004. So, to a certain extent, we should not ignore the fact that there is still a certain degree of public dissatisfaction.

Over the past few years, July 1 rallies have somehow evolved into a unique phenomenon; it's no longer just a straightforward political movement. It's a special day for Hong Kong people to air their views and to vent their grievances. July 1 has become an annual social movement parade with Hong Kong characteristics.

The pan-democrats, and those from the pro-establishment and pro-China camps, were hugely disappointed with this year's turnout mainly because they had been misled by the record turnout of the June 4 rally. They may have vastly different political views, but they all seemed to target Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's administration, saying there is a governance crisis.

The pan-democrats were hoping to see a turnout of more than 200,000 in order to give them enough ammunition to push for democratic reforms. Those at the other end of the political spectrum were scheming for political control by creating an atmosphere of political uncertainty. It was clear that they were trying to push aside the Tsang team so that they could move to the centre of the political stage. These so-called pro-establishment and pro-China forces seem to be building their political capital for the next chief executive election.

Their dissenting intention was clearly reflected in a recent Ta Kung Pao article warning that the march would shake Hong Kong's foundation and lead to chaos. This political mindset seriously neglects the aspirations of the general population.

In the presence of political uncertainty, there may be chaos at times. But finding order in chaos is what Hong Kong people are hoping to achieve, year after year, on July 1.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator