On Sunday, Carrie Lam was elected handily by a 1,194-member pro-Beijing committee to become Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive, much to the anger of the city’s pro-democracy activists.
Lam, Hong Kong’s former deputy leader, was considered to be the odds on favorite for the city’s top executive position ever since she announced her candidacy after incumbent CY Leung stated he would not be seeking a second term last December. While the 59-year-old veteran politician never gained the support of the Hong Kong people during her campaign, she was widely believed to have the backing of Beijing.
In recent years, Lam has become more and more reviled in Hong Kong because of her perceived loyalty to China’s leadership. During the 2014 Occupy protests, Lam called the protesters’ aims “vague” following a televised meeting which failed to defuse tensions, and told them all to disperse two weeks into the protests or risk arrest.
Those protesters were calling for a change in the system to allow Hong Kong’s residents to directly elect their next leader, rather than a small committee made up of various business interests and Beijing loyalists. Hong Kong’s government refused to give in to protesters’ demands, leading to Lam’s predictable, decisive and divisive victory on Sunday, in which she won 777 votes — inspiring some NSFW Cantonese puns and earning her an unfortunate nickname in the process.
Her closest challenger was former finance secretary John Tsang, who received 365 votes, mostly from pro-democracy members on the committee. During his campaign, Tsang was successfully able to recast his image from that an establishment figure to more of a populist, winning the support of a majority of Hongkongers, but not enough of the right ones. Afterward in an emotional speech, he said that he had “fought the good fight.”
After Lam’s election was announced on Sunday, protesters promptly took to the street with one group of demonstrators attempting to break through police lines outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center where the voting had taken place.
“This is just a selection made by Xi Jinping’s government,” Joshua Wong, the figurehead of the Occupy movement, said at the protest. “It’s an antidemocracy election system. This is why we have to keep engaging in civil disobedience.”
— Roland Lim (@RolandLimCNA) March 26, 2017
Lam will take office on July 1st, and will face low popularity ratings from the beginning of her term. Many believe that the eroding away of Hong Kong people’s liberties and freedoms under the “one country, two systems” framework, which was seen under Leung’s administration, will continue under Lam. In her victory speech, she vowed to do all that she could to unite an increasingly divided city which is regularly rocked by political protests, pledging to reach out to all parties in the city, even to those that oppose her.
“Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness and has accumulated a lot of frustration,” she said, according to SCMP. “My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustration — and to unite our society to move forward.”
But, only a day after Lam’s divisive victory, police began to crack down on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders. HKFP reports that multiple leaders of the Occupy protests received calls from police saying that they would be charged with “public nuisance,” a crime in Hong Kong that merits a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Some activists said that the government had waited until after the election to make this move in order to not disturb Lam’s campaign.
For her part, Lam said that she had no knowledge of the pro-democracy crackdown. “This is the action of the current administration,” she said with the news breaking only one hour after she had her first meeting with Leung as the city’s new chief executive-elect.
“[While] I want to unite society and bridge the divide that had been causing us concern, any such action should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong,” SCMP quotes Lam as saying.
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