Former deputy to Hong Kong’s ex-Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was recently elected as Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive on Sunday night, March 25, but a cloud of dissent and tension surrounds her victory.
Despite the fact that the most popular candidate by far, proven consistently throughout three rounds of poll voting, was John Tsang, Lam managed to secure the position after the voting rounds.
How was this possible? The biggest contributing factor to this was the fact that despite that there are 3.8 million registered voters in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous state in China, only 1,194 get to vote for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.
These 1,194 people, among them, district politicians, businessmen, priests, professional unions and pop stars who make up the Election Committee. It was no secret that Carrie Lam was the most popular among the powerful in Beijing. In viewing merely one target group of voters, Hong Kong businessmen who run large and powerful businesses, are mostly pro-Beijing as such a stance works in their personal interests best- as shown in this article of influentials in the sector praising her. This win-win dynamic created by the relationship of voters and the candidate in question explains Lam’s victory with much ease.
There’s also, of course, the pressure placed by Beijing on voters to vote for Lam which she has admitted to.
It comes as a no surprise, therefore, that young Hong Kong lawmaker, Nathan Law labeled the “democratic” elections as a sham.
“This is entirely controlled by the Beijing government, it’s a selection, not an election,” says the young pro-Democrat, who boycotted the election in a show of his dissent.
In addition to this backlash, Lam faces the challenge of appeasing both the powerful in Beijing, who wish to stay in control, as well as the people of Hong Kong, who advocate for change and freedom. Hong Kong’s youth are even beginning to develop an identity, separate from Beijing and the rest of China as property prices rise and employment opportunities grow fewer and fewer.
Most prefer to be known as ‘Hong Kongers’ instead of Chinese, and the results of the election have done nothing to ease this tension and dissatisfaction. Lam is merely viewed as another Beijing mouthpiece and the public can merely resign with frustration at their lack of power to push for the change they want.
It is the general public’s understanding that with Lam as Chief Executive, there will be little change in Hong Kong’s controlled political culture and a bigger gap between the Hong Kong youth and the central government.
However, this attitude is hardly new. In 2014, Lam went head-to-head with students in official talks on the youths’ demand for an unrestricted choice of candidates during the 2017 territorial elections for Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive. By the end of it, little was agreed on between the two parties involved and the opposing views are seen to this day. These talks were a result of the Occupy protests of 2014– a series of sit-in protests demanding the same electoral freedom- which empowered the public on this front (mainly university and high school students) and added to Hong Kong’s attitude towards the elections and central government today.
This tension between the two states is one Lam had promised to resolve, though whether she will is a question that has been raised by most in the state and answered only with pessimism and dismay to this day.
Critics have long warned that her win doesn’t mean she will be able to easily move the people and assert her position of power due to her lack of popularity—as shown in the polls— and her close ties to Beijing.
“Even if she wins, at the end of the day she will find herself lacking a popular mandate,” said Professor Francis Lee, Chinese University academic, to South China Morning Post before the elections were held. The same popularity among the elite was what lost her votes among the Hong Kong public, though it hardly fazed her despite the fact it jeopardizes her quest to fulfill her priorities.
“My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustration – and to unite our society to move forward,” announced Lam after the elections on Sunday, though recent developments have proved anything but.
Tensions in the state were already furthered by the removal of two pro-Democracy lawmakers from parliament (reducing influence of the pro-Democrat party) but just a day after the election results, nine pro-democracy activists were prosecuted for their involvement in Occupy protests from the two years ago. Such action has done nothing to convince the Hong Kong public of her words to bring change, though there had never been much hope to begin with.
Settling the political tension between Hong Kong’s pro-Democracy camp and the central government’s Communist party is certainly no easy feat, but adhering to the “one country, two systems” policy is a task expected of Lam by both the Beijing office and the people. It is now up to Lam to fulfill it in the coming days or face consequences worse than resigned discontentment.