Letter to Hong Kong – July 1 March

RTHK Radio3  2008-06-29

I do not know how one can define some events as a tradition. It has been five years since the first July 1 march. This year the Civil Human Rights Front is organizing the fifth July 1 march with the theme: “ One World, Same Human Rights, Improvement in Livelihood, Democracy for the People ” . All pan-democrats will also rally behind the March and mobilize for the march. And, as usual, few weeks before the march, the guessing game began. How many people will turn up for the March? People are so interested in the turnout because the March has become a sort of referendum on the governance of the Chief Executive Donald Tsang. It is therefore not just a march but a show of hands or feet of non-confidence of this government. There are numerous reasons that the people of Hong Kong should come to the march and may I suggest a few.

This is the fifth anniversary of the first July first march and we should celebrate the very active and vibrant civil society that was instrumental in forcing the Government to withdraw the legislation of Article 23. We will never forget the time when hundreds of thousands of people went to the streets and waited for hours under intense heat to defend the freedom we all cherished so much. We should continue to be alert of any attempt to erode the freedom that we enjoy.
The only guarantee for our freedom is democracy. But last year the people of Hong Kong was denied our basic right to universal suffrage when the National People Congress ruled out again universal suffrage for the year 2012. This was the second time Beijing ruled out Universal Suffrage in total disregard of the strong demand of Hong Kong people for democracy. Though there was a timetable this time with a promise of universal suffrage for the Chief Executive in 2017 and for Legislative Council in the year 2020, it is still doubtful whether the future system will truly be democratic. This suspicion is reinforced when a Beijing official tried to suggest that under universal suffrage, the present functional constituencies can still continue to play a certain role. We have to continue our fight for democracy and send a clear message to the Chief Executive and Beijing that Hong Kong people deserve better and we want democracy now.
The recent political storm over the political appointments by the Chief Executive clearly demonstrates the importance of an effective check and balance political system in order to ensure that the Chief Executive will not have any authoritarian tendency. The Chief Executive tried to defuse the bomb by coming to the Legislative Council session to explain but his action did not end with the intended effect as he did not give any new explanation and refused to answer questions from the Legislators. The Chief executive has not addressed the anger of the public over the lack of transparency concerning the appointment, the salary level and suspicion of favouritism. This is bad governance in action. It came as a surprise to many who believed that Donald Tsang should not have made such mistake of miscalculating public anger and responding clumsily to public anger. But I will submit that he had become too arrogant after enjoying months of high popularity and he can do whatever he want without any questions asked from the public. Luckily, this is not the case with the people of Hong Kong. We should come out to march on July 1 for a truly accountable Government and to keep Donald Tsang on his alert for public opinion.
We should also march for the improvement of livelihood especially in this time of high inflation and high food prices. With an already very wide gap between the rich and the poor, high inflation will make things far worse for the poor and low-income groups. But this Government is unwilling to do more for the poor. The only promise we get is that we should wait for his policy address this year but too bad by that time a lot of poor people would have suffered unnecessarily. This Government keeps on delaying the legislation on minimum wage when it is now very obvious that with very meagre income, it is better for the working poor to live on welfare. This is not because welfare is too generous but because wages are too low. There is no support for low-income families and the transport subsidy scheme of HK$600 is only for low income workers living in remote districts. The same low-income workers in other districts are unfairly deprived of this assistance. This is something the Government can do immediately. The poor and deprived should march for dignity and demand for immediate Government measures to alleviate poverty.
Let us march shoulder to shoulder for democracy, good governance, a truly accountable Government, decent living under high inflation and to keep this government always on the edge for public opinion. This is the time for people power to be back in action. Wear white and bring your own banners. See you on July 1 at 3 pm in Victoria Park.