The three reasons march fell short

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

Hot weather, hindrance by the police and their own over-optimistic predictions about how many people would join Wednesday's anti-government march were behind the unexpectedly low turnout, pan-democrats concluded yesterday.

Still, they predicted there would be a bigger protest later in the year - on a par with previous July 1 marches - if the government's electoral reform proposals were too conservative.

Speaking after a meeting of pan-democratic political parties yesterday, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, its convenor, said her colleagues had reviewed how the protest was organised and concluded there were several reasons for the lower-than-expected turnout.

Pan-democrats had forecast that at least 100,000 people would march in support of a range of causes. Organisers said 76,000 had taken part in the rally and march from Causeway Bay to Central, but academics estimated 29,000 to 33,000 took part. Police said there had been 28,000 protesters at the height of the rally.

'The prediction of a high turnout might have given people the impression that since so many people would join anyway, it did not matter whether they joined or not. In the future, we have to channel the message that everyone counts in the fight for democracy,' Ms Ho said.

She said that in the next few months, pan-democrats would focus on mobilising support ahead of the release by the government of proposals for electoral reforms to pave the way for election of the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017.

Ms Ho said the camp intended to stage a big protest if the government's proposal was unsatisfactory.

Some of the marchers on Wednesday scuffled with police holding them up to allow traffic to pass.

The delays had caused some people to faint.

Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, was one of the march organisers. He said the Civil Human Rights Front would review its strategy for the protest and aimed to talk more to the police in future.

'Many people left early after being stuck on the road or inside Victoria Park. Many more, who intended to join on the way, thought better and left after seeing how police held up the procession. We hope that will not happen again,' he said.

But Leung Kwok-hung, of the League of Social Democrats, said the turnout was satisfactory. He pointed to the strong presence of young people in the ranks of marchers. 'The only reason people didn't turn up or left early was the sun. Have you any idea of what it was like to march in 34-degree heat? It is rubbish to say public backing was not strong enough for the protest,' Mr Leung said.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the lesson pan-democrats should learn from Wednesday was never to overestimate the turnout for a march when there is no strong political issue for marchers to focus on.

'It was like shadow-boxing this time. But the turnout might be much different later this year if the government angers the people with a disappointing constitutional reform proposal,' Mr Choy said.