Aug 17 march shows power of peaceful protest against 'Occupy'

Updated: 2014-08-23 07:14

By Eddy Li(HK Edition)

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On Aug 17, according to preliminary estimates from the organizer - the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, more than 190,000 people in Hong Kong marched to express their desire to achieve universal suffrage in the 2017 Chief Executive election and their opposition to the "Occupy Central" campaign.

The march set off from Victoria Park to Central. If you compare aerial news photos of the Aug 17 march and the annual July 1 march, they give the impression there were more people protesting on July 1 than on Aug 17. But if you look at photos of people in Victoria Park during these two events, you get the opposite impression. To my knowledge there seemed to be fewer people marching on Aug 17. This is because the organizers made sure the procession moved along to make room for those who couldn't enter the park due to the crowds. But the July 1 march deliberately stopped en route several times. This resulted in some temporary road jams.

The July 1 parade has become an annual event for various organizations to voice diverse viewpoints. These usually have nothing to do with what the organizers are advocating. As news photos and TV footage show every year, the many demands raised by the marchers include environmental protection, reviewing the Individual Visit Scheme, universal retirement protection and even gay rights. The only exception is perhaps the "Occupy" rehearsal after the July 1 march. But this was just a "show" by 500 or so dedicated "occupiers".

A striking difference between the two demonstrations is that the Aug 17 parade was all about the theme announced by the organizers. They also differ in that the organizers of the Aug 17 march did not inflate the headcount. But the organizers of the July 1 event continually exaggerated the numbers. This year, for example, they claimed some 510,000 people participated in the July 1 march - more than tripling the estimate by their favorite professional pollster. It was believed they did this to break the previous record of 500,000.

Aug 17 march shows power of peaceful protest against 'Occupy'

The Aug 17 demonstration was also impressive for its broad level of representation - including the business community, who usually stay neutral on political matters to avoid any biased coverage by the press. There were also many senior citizens and even people with disabilities marching on Aug 17. The presence of women of all ages also said a lot about its popularity. To say the weather, at 33 C, posed a challenge was an understatement! It takes more than a healthy body to endure the scorching sun in such circumstances. The physically less able were determined to lend their support for legally and peacefully achieving universal suffrage, and to express their opposition to "Occupy". From this perspective, we conclude that the majority of Hong Kong people want constitutional development to proceed peacefully.

This is the very first march I have joined. I am glad I was able to complete the trip from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Chater Garden in Central despite certain health problems and against my doctor's advice. I did this because I hope universal suffrage can be achieved in the year 2017, under consensus reached by all parties - peacefully and sensibly. I am confident constitutional reform will eventually be accomplished, albeit in a steady and gradual manner without violent protest.

The Aug 17 march is historically significant in that it finally inspired the silent majority to publicly step forward and voice their opinions. I fully agree with the view that, in terms of political advocacy, convincing the "silent majority" to speak out is actually more difficult than motivating protesters. There is no better demonstration of this than the annual July 1 protest march. The protest never fails to allow people to express a great variety of personal grudges against many "culprits" - including the government. It makes the anti-"Occupy" campaign all the more impressive because the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, who organized it, also pulled off the remarkable feat of collecting 1.5 million signatures on their petition. The petition also aimed to promote universal suffrage according to the Basic Law and to oppose "Occupy" and any violent protests. This is indeed a great milestone.

One of the three initiators of the "Occupy" movement responded to the Aug 17 march by saying he wanted Hong Kong people to understand that "Occupy" will also be "non-violent". But, I am quite certain the "non-violent" label is no more than a dream which cannot be realized.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee is to scrutinize the Hong Kong government's constitutional development report later this month. At the moment, all opinions are welcome as long as they are expressed legally. I believe democracy is the common desire of everyone. The ideas from all parties or organizations will be taken into consideration by the central government and SAR government. So there is no need to resort to any violent behavior likely to bring harm to Hong Kong - especially its economy. If some "democracy" campaigners insist on taking radical actions, this will be against the will of the people. Such behavior is exactly the opposite of democracy.

The author is vice-president of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong.

(HK Edition 08/23/2014 page5)