Protest fatigue and lack of clear goal blamed for slump in Hong Kong July 1 rally turnout
Organiser admits lack of a burning issue kept numbers down but says democracy fight goes on
The turnout for the July 1 rally for democracy yesterday plunged to the lowest since 2008, with observers and marchers blaming protest fatigue and the lack of an obvious goal after the rejection of the government's electoral reform package.
The Civil Human Rights Front, the organiser of the annual pro-democracy march, last night put the turnout at 48,000, compared with last year's 510,000.
Police said the number of marchers peaked at a mere 19,650, compared with 98,600 last year.
The University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme put the turnout at around 28,000, compared with 162,000 last year. Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, an HKU statistician, estimated around 20,000 people took part in the march.
Front convenor Daisy Chan Sin-ying admitted the turnout was lower than expected. "After the vote on the reform package, there is no burning issue so people may not feel any urgency to protest," she said.
But she disagreed it meant people had given up on the fight for democracy or considered the march useless. She also dismissed suggestions that the low turnout indicated a lack of public support for their call for an amendment to the Basic Law.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, attributed it to post-Occupy fatigue and the lack of urgent political issues. "A growing number of protesters also believe the city should no longer stick to peaceful protests in achieving democracy in the wake of the Occupy sit-ins," Choy said.
Those who turned out braved a hot weather warning, with temperatures topping 32 degrees Celsius. They marched for causes ranging from universal suffrage to affordable housing, gay rights and better education opportunities for ethnic minorities.
Johnson Yip, who joined the rally with his wife and his seven-year-old son Issac, said the annual rally was iconic to Hongkongers. "Some people might want to take a short break [after the failed political reform], but I think we should continue the fight for our goal," he said.
Retired civil servant Max Leung, 60, who was there in a wheelchair, said he was optimistic about the future, having attended every July 1 march since 1997.
Watch: Why Hongkongers still join July 1 march after Beijing-backed election plan was rejected
At a reception celebrating the handover anniversary yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying cited the experience of some European democracies in warning that "democratic systems and procedures are no panacea for economic and livelihood issues".
He said the government needed the support of the community to improve people's livelihoods after the rejection of the electoral reform plan.
A government spokesman said the demand for amending the Basic Law would "absolutely not be conducive to the overall interests of Hong Kong", adding that it would be unfeasible for the current administration to restart the electoral reform exercise in the next two years.
The march was policed by 3,000 officers, but concerns about possible violence proved unfounded.
Gary Cheung, Jeffie Lam, Fanny W.Y. Fung, Ben Westcott and Stuart Lau