Following the huge turnout at the July 1 pro-democracy march in Hong Kong, pro-Beijing groups organized a counter rally on Sunday to express support for the government and opposition to Occupy Central and its calls for universal suffrage. Like the July 1 march, estimates of the attendance of today’s protest widely differ. Yet while the July 1 march was attended by many young people, the demographics today trended older, with many participants bused in from the mainland by organizers. Ng Kang-chung, Jeffie Lam, and Nectar Gan from the South China Morning Post report:
Among those leading the march, organised by the pro-establishment Alliance for Peace and Democracy, were executive councillors Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, Cheung Chi-kong, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, and Cheng Yiu-tong.
There were also large numbers of mainland tourists and organised groups of elderly participants from leftist associations.
[…] Amid conflicting reports on the size of the crowd, rumours flew of participants being strong-armed into attending and of people being offered a free lunch or money. Many restaurants in the area reported full houses. Tour buses were also seen streaming into Victoria Park, reportedly bringing people from across the border. [Source]
And from Michael Forsythe and Alan Wong at the New York Times:
Protesters, many waving Chinese flags, streamed into Victoria Park in the midafternoon before the march, and the contrast with a rally held July 1 by pro-democracy organizers was stark. Most of the participants in Sunday’s rally were organized into groups corresponding to Chinese hometowns, schools or, in some cases, employers, easily identifiable with their matching T-shirts and hats. Middle-aged and elderly people dominated Sunday’s march, while young people dominated last month’s march.
In speech, they often employed the political lexicon of China’s ruling Communist Party. Typical was Kitty Lai, an investment adviser wearing an orange T-shirt and a baseball cap emblazoned with the logo of the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations, a group that represents people from the coastal province across from Taiwan. She said shutting down the Central business district would cause chaos.
“We want everything to be stable,” Ms. Lai, 50, said in Mandarin Chinese. “We want everybody to live harmoniously.” [Source]
Xinhua declared the march a victory for Hong Kong’s “silent majority”:
Opinion of the silent majority should not be kidnapped by a handful of people. So, they stepped forward Sunday and told the extremists that any action or proposal violating the laws, such as occupying Central and civil nomination for chief executive candidates, are not popular in Hong Kong.
The Peace and Democracy movement has collected endorsements on the internet and at signing stations by more than 1 million local people who expressed their strong willingness that Hong Kong needs stability and rule of law.
Occupying Central, as rehearsed by some young citizens on July 2 early morning at Charter Garden, could paralyze Hong Kong’s core businesses, bring billions of dollars economic loss and frighten thousands of overseas tourists.
It could not threaten the central government and could bring nothing to Hong Kong’s constitutional reform but breaking the laws. [Source]
Official media claimed the turnout was larger than on July 1, but observers noted that this may not be the case:
Left: July 1 march. Right: Today's march. Both at their apparent peaks. Note different composition, pace & density. pic.twitter.com/Ur7XavMxod
— Alan Wong (@byAlanWong) August 17, 2014
Contrast between today's marchers & July 1's was staggering: origin, age, etc. Much implication for Hong Kong future. http://t.co/qHfkZSkNdW
— Alan Wong (@byAlanWong) August 17, 2014
While some have implied that attendance at today’s march was orchestrated by the government, a new study from the South China Morning Post shows that the results of a public consultation on political reform for selection of the chief executive in 2017 – the focus of Occupy Central demands – may also have been skewed by biased data collection. The majority of opinions collected were conservative and did not support universal suffrage. From Calvin Liu, Brian Yap and Joyce Ng at SCMP:
More than 90 per cent of the 124,700 submissions during the five-month consultation exercise were based on templates and submitted collectively by 822 groups – most of which were not named.
The city’s biggest political party, the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, was responsible for 12.7 per cent of the bloc submissions.
The government has relied heavily on the results of the consultation in presenting its report to Beijing on models for the 2017 chief executive election, when the city will elect its leader by one man, one vote for the first time.
A spokesman for the government refused to say whether bloc and individual replies were weighted differently, stating only that the report reflected the views collated. [Source]
The July 1 march was widely condemned in official media, in contrast to today’s march, which was prominently reported, according to the BBC.
Read more about Occupy Central, via CDT.