The mercury is rising in this hot summer, and so is the political temperature. As the anniversary of the city's return to Chinese rule draws near, rival camps are gearing up for an annual showdown again. Ever since the day was marked with a massive anti-government protest in 2003, July 1 has become synonymous with demonstrations; tens of thousands take to the streets to air grievances. This has prompted government allies to counter with high-profile celebrations. As odd as it seems, the coexistence of protest and celebration is testimony to our tolerance and pluralism.
The tension this year, however, appears to be exceptionally high. The pro-celebration camp has stepped up its campaign by arranging for shops to offer discounts during the hours of the march. Korean pop stars will be flown in to perform with local singers in a Kai Tak concert. The 18,000 tickets sold at a bargain HK$99 were snapped up within hours. More intriguing is that the Korean singers, for whose concerts tickets normally cost between HK$480 to HK$1,680, are said to have slashed the price because they appreciate that the concert is being staged to push the government to provide a mega performance venue.
These goodies have unleashed a barrage of criticism from people supporting the march. They accuse their rivals of splashing out money to dampen the turnout and urge people to snub the concert and the discount shopping. With Leung Chun-ying still struggling to impress after a year in office, opinion polls show sentiment against the chief executive and Beijing have reached a level similar to 2003. Organisers hope the 10th anniversary of the landmark protest can draw a big turnout to oust the embattled leader. This inevitably fuelled worries and prompted the rival camp to step up countermeasures.
There is nothing wrong with the celebrations. People who want to mark the anniversary with fanfare and festivities have as much right to do so as do others to protest. No one has a monopoly over how to mark a day with varied meanings and significance to different people. Both sides are entitled to express their views. The rivalry is likely to continue in the future. As long as the two camps respect each other's rights and freedom - and let people choose what to do on July 1 - there is no reason why celebrations and protests cannot coexist. This is a show of our pluralism, tolerance and maturity. This is what freedom of expression is about.