Hong Kong's democracy advocates zoom in on district work after low July 1 march turnout

New movement is to zoom in on small neighbourhoods after low march turnout, aiming to help people understand district councils' political role

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 July, 2015, 2:43am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 July, 2015, 2:43am

A new civil society group is turning the focus of its democracy push from the big July 1 rally to small neighbourhoods, moving beyond the annual march whose low turnout this year continues to baffle its organisers.

Experienced activists and scholars who launched the Community Citizen Charter Movement late last month are eyeing district-level work with new initiatives in the pipeline.

The movement is founded by eight groups and six individuals, including Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting, former legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, Occupy student leader Alex Chow Yong-kang and cultural studies scholar Chen Yun-chung.

Chen, a Lingnan University associate professor, said yesterday that the initiative was meant to be a "voters' movement".

"We want to politicise the [November] district council polls and encourage people to understand the political role of the city's 18 district councils," he said.

"This is something political parties may not want to do because residents care more about what goodies and freebies the candidates have to offer."

The new group would work out a networking platform for candidates, NGOs and residents, so they could explore opportunities for cooperation, he added.

An idea to be considered, Chen said, was to convene "residents' meetings" if they could bring together at least 100 people in a neighbourhood. Within the small community, they could discuss how to improve the environment and economy.

Chen spoke a day after the pro-democracy march drew only about 48,000 participants according to estimates from the organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front. The figure was a seven-year low since 2008, when 47,000 were believed to have taken part.

The low attendance hit the fundraising efforts of political groups. Student body Scholarism suffered the biggest blow, raising just HK$540,000, down from last year's HK$1.31 million.

Some of the marchers' donations went to budding groups such as the Progressive Lawyers Group, which raised HK$147,000.

Tai noted the rally took place just two weeks after the Legislative Council voted down a Beijing-decreed political reform plan for the 2017 chief executive election, so many people were still trying to figure out the future direction of the democracy fight.

"There was no clear theme [in yesterday's march]," he admitted. "But given that people did not have a motive to take part, the turnout was not small."

Scholarism convenor Joshua Wong Chi-fung also believed the lack of a clear theme was the "key reason" for the low numbers.

"All the student bodies, civil societies and political parties were unable to come up with a clear framework for the next democratic movement," he said.

"We have to admit our own limitations and find out shortcomings in the existing strategies and theories."

One of the event's themes was to amend the Basic Law, but Wong said discussions in the past few months were only a start and no consensus had been reached as to how to achieve that goal.

The annual procession saw the highest turnouts in 2003 - attracting 500,000 protesters in the wake of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak - and last year, when 510,000 marched during the run-up to Occupy and Beijing's stipulation of a reform framework.

The estimated participation had always been controversial, with police giving a much lower figure that could mean a difference of hundreds of thousands.

The number had dropped in times of economic recovery, as in 2005 when the front put it at 21,000, and had risen as political change loomed - such as the 400,000 who marched a few months after Leung Chun-ying became chief executive.