Mainland ally elected Hong Kong chief executive

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Carrie Lam, the new Head Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Courtesy of user Asia Society through Flickr

The 2014 Umbrella Movement brought Hong Kong to a standstill for about three months. That movement called for the resignation of then-Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, whose number two, Carrie Lam, was just elected by an electoral college that is highly pro-Beijing.

Carrie Lam now faces the daunting task of balancing demands from Beijing and from the city’s increasingly pro-democratic youth who demand greater participation in the election process.

This election placed Carrie Lam on a collision course with former finance minister John Tsang, who is also seen as pro-Beijing but is favored by the people. Lam has tried to pass legislation in Hong Kong that would, on the surface, seem to allow greater input in the electoral process by Hongkongers. However, the legislation was highly unpopular with the people because it would only allow them to vote from a select few candidates chosen by the central Chinese government in Beijing.

Further complicating Lam’s transition are the feelings surrounding Beijing’s disqualification of two legislators hailing from the pro-democracy movement of 2014, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, because they “had not taken their oaths properly.”  The two legislators were accused of inserting what was seen as a swipe against Beijing by the mainland’s ruling Communist Party.

While Lam is unpopular among younger Hongkongers, a recent poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that of people who responded, 55 percent thought she would perform better than her incredibly unpopular predecessor, Leung.

Despite this, another poll found that among the three candidates vying for Chief Executive—Lam, Tsang, and Woo Kwok-hing, Tsang would have won the votes of 53 percent of respondents, while only 32 percent backed Lam, and a meager 10 percent of respondents would have voted for Woo.

The University of Hong Kong’s poll also showed dissatisfaction with the electoral process. Fifty percent of respondents said they are not satisfied with the process of selecting their leader, showing a desire for greater participation in the democratic process.

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, Hong Kong’s Basic Law Article 22 states, “No department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law,” with the author going on to claim Beijing violated this article of the equivalent to Hong Kong’s constitution with the selection of Lam and the central government’s influence in her victory.

On July 1, 1997, the British government handed over their overseas colony of Hong Kong to Beijing. The treaty signed by the two countries laid out rules to how the city was to be treated, now known as “one country–two systems.” This system allows the city of Hong Kong a large degree of autonomy from the central government in Beijing. The treaty grants Hong Kong this autonomy for 50 consecutive years after the handover in 1997, with July 2017 being the 20th anniversary of the handover. A controversial visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the city is scheduled for the event.

The world will be watching how Hongkongers react to Xi Jinping’s visit in July—one that has the chance to draw large protests. A Hong Kong lawmaker, Claudia Mo, was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “If he does come, protests will be unavoidable.”

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