The people of Hong Kong have long been labelled as apolitical. But the political upheavals the city has seen in 2003 have made that nametag all but unrecognisable. Hong Kong may never be the same after the Article 23 controversy and the astounding series of events that followed the July 1 protest. As the organisers of the July 1 march have said, the 500,000 demonstrators who braved the blazing sun in a procession from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to the Central Government Offices made history, the event proving that the real force of people power can make a difference. Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, spokesman for the Civil Human Rights Front - an umbrella group of political parties, social and Christian groups - which organised the protest, said July 1 had taken on a permanent new meaning beyond its significance as a public holiday commemorating Hong Kong's union with the mainland. 'To many people in Hong Kong, July 1 in the context of the handover was only a day when the central government decided the fate of Hong Kong to return to China. But now, July 1 in the context of the great march has a new meaning as history was created directly by the people in Hong Kong,' he said. While many observers have attributed the number of participants in the anti-government demonstrations to various factors - including the Sars outbreak, the ailing economy and maladministration by the government - Article 23 served as the catalyst that brought to the surface frustrations at the perceived problems besetting Hong Kong. It was the largest protest here since the million-strong demonstration over the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. The march made headlines around the globe. The spectre of Article 23 of the Basic Law - which requires the creation of legislation banning acts of treason, subversion and theft of state secrets - loomed large at the start of the year in the wake of the government's announcement late last year that laws to fulfil the article had to be enacted as soon as possible. Resisting strong demands by leading lights in the legal, human rights and political sectors to release a draft white bill for public consultation, the government introduced a bill to the Legislative Council after revealing the result of a much-criticised public consultation which officials were accused of doctoring in favour of legislation. Months of intense battle between the pro-democracy forces and the pro-administration camp followed, both inside and outside the legislature. On one side were the democrats, led by a group of prominent lawyers, who waged a passionate fight against what they called an 'evil law' which they said would undermine freedom and human rights; on the other were pro-government parties who continued to support the official stance that enacting the bill was a divine duty which should be shared by all. The continuing refusal by the government to heed public demand to shelve the bill - or at least dilute provisions that would give officials immense power to ban undesirable activists and groups in Hong Kong - ended in the explosion on July 1. Observers said the remarks made by officials and pro-government politicians before and after the march served to demonstrate how badly the administration had miscalculated public anger from nearly every sector. The government decision to water down and then shelve the bill on July 5 and July 7 respectively made a mockery of earlier comments by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and his top adviser, Tsang Yok-sing, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), that the public and foreign governments were 'misguided' in opposing the passage of the bill and that the bill would be pushed through regardless of the scale of protest. The defeat over Article 23 also forced Mr Tung to admit that he had made mistakes since the handover, and pushed him into pledging to change his governing style to be more attentive to public opinion. He has also vowed that controversial policies will not be implemented without wide consensus. Father Louis Ha Ke-loon, a veteran campaigner for a faster pace towards democracy, said the previously distant dream of electing the next chief executive and the entire Legco by universal suffrage after 2007 had grown into a social consensus since July 1. 'Public demand for the return of power to the people has become clear enough, and the wish for universal suffrage - which we at first struggled to push for last year, has suddenly became widely supported, even by the pro-Beijing DAB,' he said. The victory of 'people power' over Article 23 had other repercussions. These included the resignations of Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the unpopular secretary for security who was responsible for pushing through the bill, and financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, who was caught up in the backlash against the administration while embroiled in scandal over Cargate, his purchase of a Lexus ahead of his budget increase in luxury car tax. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, professor of political science at City University, said he saw trouble brewing, with Beijing intervening more in Hong Kong affairs. But he admitted that July 1 was a demonstration of the power and growing role that the middle class plays in public affairs, and the elevation of democracy to higher importance. 'July 1 is not a watershed. Rather, it is the culmination point of a very gradual process which has started in the past six years. It is difficult to say whether it is a good thing, because Beijing believes it has to intervene and this is not healthy. But a bad thing for Beijing can be turned into a good thing if Beijing correctly judges public opinion and responds in a liberal manner.'