Rain or shine - or even a typhoon signal number 3 - there was no doubt of a big turnout for yesterday's traditional handover protest. The celebrations by government supporters also drew crowds of revellers across the city. The anniversary of the return to Chinese rule provides an ideal occasion for people to celebrate, or to air grievances. All manner of issues were on show on placards and in chants among the hundreds of thousands who yesterday afternoon marched from Victoria Park to Central.
Of all the issues of discontent, though, none was as apparent as the lack of discussion on how universal suffrage should be implemented. It is a matter that authorities, both here and in Beijing, must address seriously.
Organisers claimed a turnout of 430,000. Police said there were 66,000 people at the peak. The celebrations were said to have had a turnout of 225,000. The protesters took to the street for various reasons. But the clamour for universal suffrage was loud and clear. Last night, Leung Chun-ying said he would respond to people's aspirations. But he maintained that consultation would be launched at an appropriate time. The response naturally fell short of the expectations of those who braved sporadic downpour and strong winds to make themselves heard.
The annual July 1 protest has been a barometer of public satisfaction with the status quo and the government's performance. No doubt it is closely followed by Beijing officials. Speaking before the march, liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming said the march showed Hong Kong enjoys freedom and rights. It remains unclear how Beijing will interpret the turnout. But if Zhang's response is any reference, it is to be hoped that the city's thirst for democracy will be greeted with an equally accommodating response from Beijing.
The city's constitutional development cannot move forward without Beijing's blessing. That means there is a need to engage the stakeholders for an early dialogue on how to achieve the goal of universal suffrage according to the Basic Law and the parameters laid down by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. It will be in the interest of Beijing and the Hong Kong government to seriously address the aspirations for democracy and come up with an electoral model acceptable to the majority of the people. Ensuring universal suffrage in 2017 is important. It will be a significant step forward for democracy.