The New Year’s Day “referendum” on electoral reform started at 2:30pm in Victoria Park, with organisers expecting 50,000 to attend.
“The government has been acting against the public will, and I want to do something for Hong Kong,” says Karen Cheung, a second-year student at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), who supports Hongkongers’ ability to choose who should represent the city, as Beijing currently appoints the chief executive.
Among the protesters were 300 students of Scholarism, a group of student activists originally formed to protest against the “moral and national” education programme for primary and secondary schools.
"We are fighting for direct nomination from all citizens," says Joshua Wong Chi-fung, convenor of Scholarism. "Other groups might say that's unrealistic, and that the central government will never accept that. But to us, every Hongkonger matters, and every Hongkonger should be equal and has the right to nominate."
Ching Hoi-yeung, a Form Two student taking part in his first protest, was accompanied by his father. Hoi-yeung told Young Post he had come out on the public holiday to support the fight for real universal suffrage in the hope that it will enhance the government’s legitimacy.
Children younger than Hoi-yeung also attended the rally. To foster his son's concern for the city, the New Year's Day "referendum" isn't the first rally Mr Yau and his wife had taken their eight-year-old son to.
"The current government only listens to what the central government says. If we get real universal suffrage, at least we'll be able to meet the standards of the world," says Mr Yau, a secondary school history teacher. "If we don't get universal suffrage, my son's future is ruined."
A mock vote also allowed people to cast ballots and have their say online. The New Year Civil Referendum Project was commissioned by the Occupy Central movement, and conducted by the HKU and Polytechnic University. The website revealed that by 3pm about 40,000 people had cast their vote. Young Post staff members also tried to vote; some got through, others didn’t.
Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang cast her ballot in the morning and joined the march from Moreton Terrace. She said the latest polls by HKU found that Hongkongers had set a 20-year limit for universal suffrage, and that they were more concerned about achieving that than they were about the economy and other livelihood issues.