Last year, days before the anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa called on Hong Kong people to 'put the baggage of June 4' behind. His call fell on deaf ears. About 3,500 people took part in a march and 55,000 in a candle-light vigil to mourn the Beijing residents and students who lost their lives when the People's Liberation Army forced their way through the streets of the capital. This year, Mr Tung has chosen to say nothing about the tragic suppression which touched the hearts of many Hong Kong people. While he made it clear last year that he did not agree with the direction of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, organiser of the commemorative activities, he has not barred it from doing so again this year. On Sunday, about 2,700 people took part in the ninth march of its kind, compared with 3,500 last year. Tonight, barring unforeseen circumstances, Victoria Park will once again be lit up by tens of thousands of candles. Only the number is uncertain. But if Sunday's turnout is any guide, then there are likely to be fewer candles than last year's 55,000. But this should not be taken as a sign that June 4 is fading out of the collective memory; only that people are feeling much more relaxed about the political climate. Alliance spokesman Cheung Man-kwong, a member of the Legislative Council under British rule who was returned to the council last Sunday week, says years of experience organising the functions taught him that the more tense the political atmosphere is, the higher the turnout. A 'now or never sentiment' permeated the participants in last year's commemorative activities, who thought they would be the last. But the worst fears about curbs on free speech after the transfer of sovereignty have failed to materialise. Mr Cheung, therefore, will not be surprised if the turnout tonight is lower than last year's. Indeed, despite tighter restrictions on protests and demonstrations under an amended Public Order Ordinance, the authorities have approved applications for about 1,200 public rallies since the formation of the SAR. None has been rejected. 'Any demonstrations and rallies that are lawful and peaceful will be allowed to go on after July 1,' Mr Tung said last year. He has kept his word so far. The authorities' liberal stance has had an effect on the mood of the community. The Hong Kong Transition Project, which has been tracking the population's feelings since 1991, has found that people are much less worried about personal freedom than they were before the transfer of sovereignty. In April, 66 per cent said they were 'not worried' about personal freedom in Hong Kong, compared with 45 per cent in June 1997. This relaxed mood has to do with the hands-off approach of the central Government, whose standing in the eyes of the Hong Kong public has risen as a result. In April, 67 per cent were satisfied with the performance of the Chinese Government in dealing with Hong Kong affairs and 17 per cent were dissatisfied. In June last year, only 45 per cent were satisfied with Beijing and 41 per cent were dissatisfied. Mr Cheung is pleased that the authorities had the good sense to allow the march to take place on Sunday. Although marchers waved banners calling for the end of one-party rule in China, a reversal of the verdict on June 4 and punishment for those responsible for the crackdown, the march went on smoothly with police providing the usual escort. In fact, the march took place much more peacefully than in previous years, mainly because the Xinhua News Agency in Happy Valley ceased to be the destination. Now that the SAR is part of China, the alliance feels it should air its grievances via the SAR Government, and decided to march to Mr Tung's office at the Government Secretariat on Lower Albert Road in Central. The narrow pavement outside Xinhua is a nightmare for policemen assigned to protect the agency against over zealous protesters, while the more spacious surroundings outside Mr Tung's office make things a lot easier for both the protesters and the police. A minor scuffle broke out between police and members of the April Fifth Action Group when the activists sought to put a coffin outside the Chinese Foreign Ministry Commission's office on Kennedy Road. But it was nothing compared with the violent stand-offs outside Xinhua in previous years. Nevertheless, the authorities' liberal stance so far should be treated with caution. The fact remains that the amended Public Order Ordinance allows police to ban a demonstration on the grounds of national security even if there is no violence or attempt to overthrow the government. Under article 23 of the Basic Law, the SAR Government shall enact laws to prohibit, among other things, any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government. A bill on the subject is expected to be introduced in the next Legco session. Beijing has previously accused the alliance of being a subversive organisation - an accusation it denies. The alliance is still operating, but it is not sure if this is because there is no law yet to give the SAR Government legal authority to stop it or if the administration is just being circumspect in using its powers to clamp down on dissent. What Mr Tung and Beijing may want to remember is that tolerance and accommodation are the best weapons against dissent. Let the steam out and the boiling kettle will never explode.