Electoral reform, housing to be major themes of New Year's Day march

While cost of housing is still top concern, annual study reveals electoral change is a rising priority as tens of thousands prepare to take to streets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 3:25am

The cost of housing remains the No 1 concern for Hongkongers as 2014 dawns - but constitutional reform is catching up.

The key issues were revealed as the city prepares for the New Year's Day protest march, with universal suffrage expected to be a major theme.

One in five Hongkongers considers political reform their top concern, the highest proportion recorded in 20 years in the annual University of Hong Kong poll.

The total was up seven percentage points on the 13 per cent recorded last year, to the highest level since 1994, when governor Chris Patten was putting forward electoral reform proposals.

The proportion putting housing at the top of their list of concerns was down to 35 per cent, from 41 per cent last year, as the government sticks with cooling measures intended to calm soaring prices. The economy ranked third, down from second last year, despite a four-percentage-point increase to 18 per cent.

HKU's public opinion programme polled more than 1,000 people between December 16 and 19. HKU and Polytechnic University academics will again gauge public opinion today as the Occupy Central democracy movement holds what it calls a "civil referendum" on reform.

Permanent residents aged 18 and over can take part at a polling station in Victoria Park, online or via the PopVote smartphone app, which has already been downloaded 50,000 times from the Google apps store alone.

The exercise involves three questions and will help shape Occupy's response to the government's five-month consultation on electoral reform ahead of the 2017 election for chief executive.

The result will be announced tonight, as members and supporters of the Civil Human Rights Front stage a rally at the end of a march from Victoria Park to Central to press for what they call "true universal suffrage". Tens of thousands turned out for the last New Year's Day march.

A Beijing-loyalist group has pledged to operate stalls along the route of the march, raising fears of clashes.

The Defend Hong Kong Campaign said its members would wave the national flag and sing the national anthem to "promote the importance of the Basic Law".

And the group's organiser Po Chun-chung said: "I cannot control all of my members if they are being provoked."

A separate rally by Beijing loyalists will be held at the government headquarters in Admiralty, where the Voice of Loving Hong Kong will show support for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

The HKU poll also found that Hongkongers felt it was more important that the city be free of corruption than be a "fair" or "prosperous" society.

Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the HKU programme, said: "[The results are] possibly due to the entanglement of the former chief executive [Donald Tsang Yam-kuen], principal officials and public office bearers in conflict-of-interest scandals."