Market Analysis of July 1st

In the following are the translations of an Eastweek editorial and an Apple Daily column.  The subject: How to maximize public participation at the July 1st march in Hong Kong.

(Eastweek; no website)  June 21, 2006.

[in translation]

The annual "July 1st" is here again.  Since 2003, this is the biggest date for the opposition, and it is the day that gives them the biggest 'headache.'

July 1st gives a headache to the opposition because of the number of marchers, and that number depends on the theme.  In 2003, there were 500,000 people in the street and they were gunning for Tung Chee-hwa.  Although the marchers had different demands, they thought that their demands were connected somehow to Tung Chee-hwa.  But in 2004, the opposition's headaches began.  In the end, they "made up a number" and came up with the fraudulent "530,000 person march."  That number was very different from the more than 100,000 counted by various academic and media entities.

Last year, Tung resigned and Tsang replaced him.  The economy of Hong Kong improved.  The number of marchers was just over 20,000.  The few the people, the harder it is to falsify the number.  So this year, the opposition's headaches have intensified as they had to resort to a "chopsuey" approach to attract marchers.

Last year, the opposition rejected the government's proposed political reform package in the Legislature.  According to academic research, the citizens blamed the pan-democratic camp for rejecting the package and therefore leaving democracy at a standstill.  This made the Civil Human Rights Front's attempt to invoke "universal suffrage" as the main theme not very credible.  In view of this problem, the opposition had to come up with various other themes in order to maintain a credible number of marchers.

On Monday, a certain newspaper made a list of the "major demands of the July 1st march" -- attain universal suffrage as quickly as possible; oppose collusion between government and business; oppose the hurried approval of the HMS Tamar project; oppose the "Communication Intercept and Monitoring Regulations" for violating human rights; fight for minimum wages and maximum working hours; fight for small class sizes; oppose cutting down classes and closing schools; ... this list can continue indefinitely.  Apart from the gay people opposing discrimination against sexual orientation, there are all sorts of miscellaneous ridiculous demands, such as opposing the crackdown on BT, opposing the hiring of Bus Uncle, opposing cat killing, opposing cheating in exams ... the point is to get people out on the streets for whatever reasons.

This is like the driver looking customers at the mini-bus stop by calling out: "This bus will go to anywhere in Hong Kong SAR with no intermediate stops."  But when people get on the bus, the driver heads immediately to the Chief Executive's residence.  While people who want to go to Yuen Long and Cheung Kwun O, to Tung Chung or Siu Sai Wan, are really going to opposite ends of the territory, they are forced to sit together with obvious embarrassment and conflicts.  Instead of saying the bus driver was looking for customers, it is more like that he has kidnapped the passengers.

By the same reasoning, you can imagine middle-class apartment owners and grandparents living in public housing, delivery van drivers and taxi drivers, Catholic priests and people protesting discrimination against gays, plus the inevitable group of Falun*Gong elements (do not forget that at this year's pre-June 4th march, they accounted for the majority of the marchers and banners).  What kind of scene will this mixed dish with these elements at the July 1st march make?


(Apple Daily) The Market Analysis of July 1st. By 宋漢生.  July 20, 2006.

[in translation]

From the first July 1st march on 2003, the various writers in the "Apple Pie" column have participated in the July 1st march.  But there is a difference in opinion as to whether we would all continue this year.  The reason was that the organizers have included minimum wage and maximum working hours into the goals of this year's march.  Never mind whether these two topics are good or bad, the definition of the July 1st march itself is an interesting subject for market analysis.

Let us first talk about the nature of the march.  A demonstration can be said to be a form of collective negotiation.  On one side are the people; on the other side is the government.  The people have individual demands.  If each person negotiates one-on-one with the government, their influence is limited and therefore the effectiveness will be limited too.  If there are a few more people, their voices are louder and the government cannot easily ignore them.  From this, it can be seen that the number of people is an important factor.  If several hundred thousand people give up their holiday and do not go on vacation or sit in the sun or play mahjong and instead they march five or six hours under the blazing sun, it is enough to make the local government leader develop a serious case of footache and resign.

The magnitude of this power is no joking matter.  So how can we maximize the number of people in the demonstration march?  The largest and most decisive factor is the definition of the event.

In 2003, the march achieved unprecedented success with 500,000 people participating.  What happened?  The people who went out on the street came from different professions and social classes and they held different faiths, political beliefs and lifestyles.  They came together with one common goal -- to tell the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa that they were not happy with his governance and they wanted the right to choose the Chief Executive.  If the citizens can vote, they can toss out the Chief Executive in the next election.  There is no need to go out into the streets, and the number of marchers would be fewer.  But since there is no universal suffrage, they can only go into the streets.  "If you are unhappy with the government, please join us!"  The message was crisp and clear, and so it was easy to call for participation.

But when the definition of the demonstration gets expanded wider and wider, it becomes more difficult to call for participation.  For example, let us assume that there are three persons A, B and C.  A is fighting for a proclamation that the sun rises from the West, but B and C oppose that.  B supports French as the official language, but A and C oppose that.  The only common understanding among the three is universal suffrage.

If the organizers define the demonstration to be for universal suffrage and the sun rising in the west, this will put B and C in an awkward position.  They are willing to fight for universal suffrage, but they will not appear to be fighting for the sun rising in the west.  So in the end, B and C will be go missing.  Similarly, if the organizers include French as the official language as a goal, then maybe the only person present will be B.

At last year's July 1 march, certain organizations were opposed to the inclusion of anti-discrimination by sexual orientation as a goal and boycotted the march.  No matter who was right or wrong, the victim was the overall theme of universal suffrage.  Obviously, the more clear and focused the definition of the march, the easier it is to increase the attendance and vice versa.

George W. Bush's top advisor Karl Rove is described as the top political packager and he understands this point.  Bush is limited in knowledge and not a good debater.  During his bid for a second term, he could not handle the erudite John Kerry.  What should he do?  Rove recognized that the target voter is the "greatest common denominator" which is the conservatives.  So he made Bush emphasize his religious faith and trustworthiness and evade any confrontation with Kerry on policy issues.  So Bush won the support of the conservative voters and won the election from an adverse position.

In a market, the more focused the selling point of a brand is, the greater the effect will be.  This is the trick of "more is little and little is more."  Do you not see that a certain huge sports brand used the slogan "Just Do It" for many years without fail?  Using that as publicity will always be more effective than slogans with dozens of words and any number of variations.

As said before, the people who participate in the march may have different, even conflicting, views about matters outside of universal suffrage.  But they can still articulate their own voices under the banner of universal suffrage and walk side by side.  If the organizers insist on selecting certain issues to include under the universal suffrage umbrella, they would be exhibiting preferences and this is divisive and harmful to the overall theme of universal suffrage.  Therefore, the biggest threat against the July 1st march is not the penetration by "Brother Real" (note: see Big Discovery in Hong Kong) and it is not about the oppression by the authorities.  Rather, the threat is about having too many brand attributes that will kill the brand.  The Civil Human Rights Front does not really need to overthink about the theme -- it is a simple "I want universal suffrage."  The participating citizens can then express themselves freely under this broad umbrella!

The more general lesson is about "triangulation."  What is that?  Here is the Wikipedia entry:

"Triangulation" has been used to describe a perceived political strategy pursued successfully by U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (and unsuccessfully by Australian Labor leader Mark Latham). In these terms, it could be summarized as akin to the Hegelian theory of synthesis in which apparently contradictory elements of the Left and the Right are reconciled. For instance, government versus the market, rights versus responsibilities, are synthesized into a theoretically homogeneous whole. This has been branded by Blair the "Third Way" (also known as "New Labour").

As the Apple Daily columnist suggests, all the July 1st march organizers need is a simple slogan: "I want universal suffrage!"  There ought to be no laundry list of specific demands, because any specific demand has supporters and detractors and that can only subtract from the number.  Instead, the magic elixir of "universal suffrage" promises to satisfy the specific demands of every individual person.  This is the way to maximize participation on July 1st.

There is a second part to "triangulation" that is under-reported.  However, this is the most important component.  Specifically, it is okay (and expected) that you will betray some of your supporters.  Actually, you must do that because you cannot possibly satisfy all of the demands because some are in conflict with others.  But the good news is that you won't have to pay for it politically!  As noted in the Taipei Times editorial quoted in Triangulation Meets Apostasy, "The cunning of triangulation is that it leaves the betrayed with nowhere to go. In its devastating, yet effective cynicism it assumes that party faithful who feel betrayed will nevertheless continue to support the party if only because the alternatives are appalling. Clinton therefore could betray black voters knowing that the chance of them voting Republican was slim."

Thus, if you ever become the Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR, you can renege on minimum wage/maximum working hours or whatever because the alternative is to bring back Tung Chee-hwa or his equivalent.  That is the magical art of "triangulation."

(SCMP)  Organisers of July 1 march seek a new role.  By Ambrose Leung.  August 10, 2006.

Members of Civil Human Rights Front are considering the future of the group, which has organised four July 1 marches since 2003, ahead of a leadership change.

Despite efforts to refocus on human rights and livelihood issues instead of the main activity of organising demonstrations, members said such plans had not worked and the group should change or face being marginalised. 

Chung Chung-fai, outgoing convenor of the umbrella group with a membership of more than 50 community groups and political parties, said the organisation had not changed much under his leadership.

"The Front doesn't want to take a lead in everything, such as the sales tax debate, because everybody knows we are here for July 1, universal suffrage and constitutional reform," he said. "There is no need for change as the fight for universal suffrage is paramount."

Member groups will nominate and elect a new convenor and vice-convenors at a general meeting next month, after various committees under the leadership complete their annual reshuffle.

One leader of the Front said community groups felt increasingly uncomfortable in becoming involved in livelihood issues such as activities opposing the introduction of a goods and services tax.

"It is not that member groups didn't want to act, but they just didn't want to use the Front as a platform. If we don't find a way for change, the Front's value ... will be in doubt," the activist said.

A veteran activist said the Front was originally intended as a platform to focus on human rights and to provide a voice for underdogs.

"If it cannot function well in this way, it may never again be able to fulfil people's expectations."

Another core activist blamed the surge in the number of member groups which were "anti-communist" and banned on the mainland for scaring away local community groups from using the Front.

Political analyst Li Pang-kwong of Lingnan University said that becoming a single-issue group appeared to be the only way forward for the Front. "The dispute can be resolved if it positions itself as a group solely to fight for democratic advancement."