Hong Kong protesters march for ‘genuine universal suffrage’ one month after Carrie Lam elected leader
More than 300 people take to the streets, urging city’s chief executive-elect to reopen ‘Civic Square’ site to mend social rifts
More than 300 people took to the streets a month after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was elected Hong Kong’s next leader, reiterating their call for “genuine universal suffrage” and urging Lam to reopen the sealed-off “Civic Square” in a bid to bridge social divides.
The march from East Point Road in Causeway Bay to the chief executive-elect’s office in Central on Sunday came a week after Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai floated the controversial suggestion of the government pardoning those charged in connection with the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests, including both police and activists.
Wu was forced to retract his call within a day, after it drew strong opposition from allies and opponents. He had suggested such an amnesty would foster reconciliation.
“We are here to reiterate the principles we stand for,” legislator “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats said, ahead of the march. “In order to achieve so-called reconciliation, Hongkongers should be able to enjoy the right to universal suffrage as enjoyed by people in every democratic country.”
Demosisto lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who was also an Occupy student activist, blamed the city’s social conflicts on the widening wealth gap, political suppression and the “government-business-landlord-triad” collusion – a long-time allegation made by lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick.
“Without concrete actions to address these problems, [Lam’s pledge] to mend the rift would only be empty words,” Law said.
The marchers also urged the government to stop what they called political persecution of pan-democrat lawmakers, referring to its attempt to disqualify four more Legislative Council members over improper oath-taking.
The protest was led by a number of political and civil rights groups, and was attended by all major pan-democratic parties.
Civil Human Rights Front convenor Au Nok-hin yesterday said Lam should reopen the “Civic Square” – the east wing forecourt at the government’s Tamar headquarters – if she really hoped to mend social rifts.
“The Front will try to obtain approval to hold a rally on July 1,” said Au, referring to the annual pro-democracy march on the anniversary of the city’s handover. “If Lam refuses to let us hold a rally at Civic Square, then she should stop shedding crocodile tears.”
The Civic Square, which used to be a popular rally spot, was sealed off by the government in July 2014 for security reasons. The 79-day Occupy sit-ins were ignited two months later after student protesters forced their way in to “reclaim” the once public area.
Several pro-establishment lawmakers recently weighed in, calling on Lam’s new administration to extend an olive branch to the pro-democracy camp by reopening the forecourt.
While incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying earlier dismissed the suggestion of reopening the forecourt, a spokeswoman of the chief executive-elect’s office on Sunday said Lam would consider the request after she assumes office on July 1.
The spokeswoman also said Lam understood Hongkongers’ desire for universal suffrage but was also mindful of the controversial nature of these issues. “The government must not act rashly and must prudently consider all related factors in this regard,” she said, adding that the issue should be dealt with at a suitable time.
Meanwhile, Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a legal academic at the University of Hong Kong who took part in the march, said the city would need reconciliation in the long term, but the timing was not right.
“It would have been good timing if [current chief executive Leung] had announced a pardon for participants right after the Umbrella movement,” he said, using another popular name for the Occupy protests. “But the basis no longer exists as some participants have already served prison time.”
Tai added the political meaning of the amnesty call would be completely different if it was raised by the city’s leader instead of a member of the opposition camp like Wu.
“[The political impact of] such an amnesty call depends on its timing, conditions offered and who the initiator is,” he said.