For the first time since mass protests shut down some of the city’s busiest districts and grabbed the world’s attention, pro-democracy activists were out on the streets again this afternoon to continue their campaign.
Protesters marched behind a large banner bearing a caricature of the city’s Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, beside the now-familiar slogans: “say no to fake democracy, we want genuine universal suffrage.” At the head of the procession were the leaders of the Occupy Central movement, Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, along with longtime democratic leader Martin Lee.
In the days leading up to the protest, organizers from the Civil Human Rights Front had expected about 50,000 people to take part, but early estimates point to a smaller turnout.
Although police had deployed thousands of officers in anticipation of more sit-in protests, the various interest groups attending the rally said they had no such plans. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists have a long history of staging peaceful and orderly rallies, but in recent years resentment and frustration with authorities has been growing, leading to some clashes between police and protesters.
Chinese leaders had promised that Hong Kong would have the right to vote for the next chief executive in 2017, but in August the National People’s Congress ruled that nominees would have to be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.
“We’re not going to accept a framework or proposal that pretends to be universal suffrage but is not,” said Wilson Leung, the convener of a new organization called Progressive Lawyers Group, mainly consisting of young lawyers concerned about democracy and core values in Hong Kong.
“I certainly expect more protests and also more civil society groups to keep forming and expressing people’s wishes for democracy,” he added.
The government requires a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council for its reform to pass, but pan-democratic lawmakers have already pledged to vote down the package. Faced with such low support, officials are now beginning to suggest some relatively minor concessions could be made.
“In really crucial areas, like electoral development, I don’t think they will give anything,” said Hang Tung Chow from The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Movement of China. “It’s the same as in China as whole. They will give economic concessions, but in exchange you have to accept that you will have no democracy and no political development at all.”
One such university student, Renay Tai, echoed the sentiment of others when she said, “You can see many people here today and during the Umbrella Movement, but CY Leung gave us no response. What else can we do?”
Article originally appeared in Forbes on 1 February 2015