Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Hong Kong march organiser says he rejected call to round up turnout figure

Democrat Au Nok-hin put the turnout at 9,150 and in an unprecedented move apologised for the low number

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 10:35pm

The organiser of the New Year’s Day march rejected a call for him to round up the turnout of Sunday’s event to 10,000, shortly before he put the figure at 9,150 and apologised for the relatively low number.

Au Nok-hin, a Democratic Party district councillor, was speaking exclusively to the Post a day after he became the first convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front to have publicly apologised for the attendance at a rally.

“I said sorry because in recent years, there were people saying that marches have become useless and ceremonial,” Au said.

“I hope my apology will send the message that if anyone is unhappy about the turnout, he should put the blame on me and not label marches as ineffective.

“I also hope my apology will encourage more people to come out next time,” the 29-year-old added.

I also hope my apology will encourage more people to come out next time
Organiser Au Nok-hin

Au had previously expected up to 50,000 to take to the streets to protest against the government’s push to disqualify four pro-democracy lawmakers.

About 4,000 people took part in the New Year’s Day rally last year, which was not organised by the front but by an alliance of 45 grass-roots groups.

The number of people taking part in the front’s rallies – including annual July 1 marches – has been controversial, with police, the organisers and academics releasing widely different figures.

Police put the turnout of Sunday’s march at 4,800 at the peak.

Au said the front had followed past practice and estimated Sunday’s turnout by stationing volunteers to count participants in Causeway Bay and outside C.C. Wu Building in Wan Chai, and then multiplying the figure by 1.5 to include people who later joined the march.

“We discussed if we should round it up to 10,000, but I don’t want people to have the illusion that we do have that many people, so we put the turnout at 9,150,” Au revealed.

He added that while Sunday’s turnout was low, the Justice Defence Fund – being used to finance the four lawmakers in their legal battle – had raised HK$1.42 million, or an average of HK$155 per marcher, by collecting donations along the route.

“The average is in fact a new record ... It was much higher than in the march on July 1 last year,” he said, referring to the protest in which political parties collected about HK$2 million from about 110,000 marchers.

On Sunday, Au attributed the low turnout to the lack of a central figure to draw opposing crowds after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced he would not seek a second term. “The turnout was not big enough, I would like to say sorry to you all,” Au told a rally in Central after the march finished on Sunday evening.

His stance was in sharp contrast to that of his predecessors. On July 1, 2015, Daisy Chan Sin-ying put the turnout of the annual pro-democracy march at 48,000, compared with 510,000 in 2014.

Chan attributed the decrease to the lack of “a burning issue” after a political reform package was voted down two weeks before the march, and dismissed suggestions that it meant people had given up on the fight for democracy or considered the march useless.