HONG KONG (AP) — Thousands of people are expected to take part in an annual march for democracy on Friday in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

Since the former British colony was handed back to China on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong has largely retained its Western-style civil liberties, including press freedom and the right to hold public protests. But its people still cannot directly elect the city’s chief executive or all legislative members.

As many as 100,000 people will take to the streets, according to an estimate by the nonpartisan Hong Kong Transition Project reported by the South China Morning Post newspaper.

“If there are not 100,000 people, I will be shocked. And I won’t be surprised if the number reached 200,000,” the newspaper quoted project leader Michael DeGolyer as saying.

Pic:AP

Many people are angry over the growing rich-poor divide in the city, where soaring property prices have left many residents unable to afford a place to live and skyrocketing rents have forced out small shopkeepers. March organizers say they want to protest the “hegemony” of Hong Kong’s big property developers over the market.

Citizens are also upset over a recent government proposal to scrap by-elections and instead fill vacant legislative seats based on previous results.

The government came up with the idea after five pro-democracy legislators quit last year and ran again in a vote that they said would be seen as a de facto referendum on democratic reforms. The government argued that most people thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ money and that electoral laws needed to be changed to prevent similar campaigns in the future.

Hong Kong is the only place in China that enjoys a degree of Western-style adversarial parliamentary politics, so it’s sensitive to electoral freedoms being scaled back under mainland Chinese rule.

The rally – led by pro-democracy lawmakers and activists – has been an annual event since 2003, when half a million people took part to press for democracy and vent dissatisfaction with the government.