Thousands marched in Hong Kong yesterday to demand a greater say in how their leaders will be chosen, expressing fears that China will limit long-awaited political reforms.
“Democracy will prevail” read some banners as protesters sang and shouted slogans against the government of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, less than one month after the start of an official public consultation on a future electoral system.
“Because we are Hong Kong citizens, we must vote,” said Sharon Tang, a trading company employee, adding that residents of the former British colony have the intelligence to choose their leaders.
China, which took back Hong Kong in 1997, has promised that its people will be able to vote in 2017 for their next chief executive.
Currently the territory’s leader is elected by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee.
However, many fear that China will control the choice of candidates to secure the election of a sympathetic official.
“Hong Kong people have been on the streets over the years to strive for what we deserve, and what the Chinese government has not given us,” Charles Tam, 25, said.
The marchers left Victoria Park — named after the 19th-century British monarch who oversaw Hong Kong’s seizure from China — in mid-afternoon and were to stage a rally in the Central financial district afterward.
A poster depicting Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) with an egg plastered on his head was hung over the park lawn.
Organizers said more than 50,000 people were expected to take part in the annual protest, but turnout appeared lower than in some previous years.
Marchers aim to let the Hong Kong government and the Chinese Communist Party know “that Hong Kong people need and want real democracy,” said Johnson Yeung, convenor of rally organizers the Civil Human Rights Front.
Other issues, such as calls for more labor rights and better urban planning, were also raised.
Hong Kong has its own government and legal system, and its residents enjoy rights and freedoms unknown to Chinese.
However, there are frequent protests in the city of 7 million over slow progress toward full democracy, and discontent is also growing over sky-high housing prices and a growing wealth gap.
Mimicking the Occupy protests of 2011 in cities such as New York and London, some activists have threatened to take over the streets of Hong Kong’s business district later this year to try to force officials to guarantee a fair electoral system.
A “New Year Civil Referendum” was also conducted in Victoria Park and over the Internet yesterday, and drew about 55,000 voters by late afternoon.
The poll asked Hong Kong people their preference on how candidates for the leadership post should be chosen.