Hong Kong to choose chief executive amid tensions over election

Chief executive candidate Lam signing autographs for her fans on Thursday. The former chief secretary wrote that Hong Kongers should "come together again for the city we love" in an advertisement in the Post yesterday. Chief executive candidate Tsang
Chief executive candidate Tsang greeting his supporters yesterday. Last night, thousands attended the former financial chief's rally at Edinburgh Place in Central which was broadcast live on Facebook.PHOTO: REUTERS
Chief executive candidate Lam signing autographs for her fans on Thursday. The former chief secretary wrote that Hong Kongers should "come together again for the city we love" in an advertisement in the Post yesterday. Chief executive candidate Tsang
Chief executive candidate Lam signing autographs for her fans on Thursday. The former chief secretary wrote that Hong Kongers should "come together again for the city we love" in an advertisement in the Post yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

2,000 cops on duty on Polling Day, thousands to protest today

A new leader for Hong Kong will be elected tomorrow, amid growing calls for democracy and the protection of the city's autonomy and identity.

Thousands of pro-democracy supporters are expected to hit the streets from this afternoon to protest against what they call a "small-circle election" - only 1,194 election committee members will vote for the next chief executive.

Former chief secretary Carrie Lam, 59, is the favourite to win as she is backed by Beijing. But she faces competition from former financial chief John Tsang, 65, who has the strongest public support, and retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70.

Tomorrow, nearly 2,000 police officers will be on duty to ensure that the election proceeds smoothly, reported South China Morning Post.

Civil Human Rights Front convenor Au Nok Hin had told The Straits Times in an earlier interview that there are plans to mount a blockade of the polling centre at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

Former chief secretary Carrie Lam, 59, is the favourite to win as she is backed by Beijing. But she faces competition from former financial chief John Tsang, 65,who has the strongest public support, and retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70.

 
 

The tension surrounding the chief executive election reflects the discontent of some sectors of Hong Kong society over how they cannot directly elect their leader.

Such unhappiness had led to the 79-day Occupy Central protests in 2014, when thousands of people, mainly students, camped out in the streets to demand a freer election.

But political analyst Willy Lam does not think violent protests will result tomorrow, given that "most people realise that Carrie Lam will win with Beijing's blessings".

In the event that Mr Tsang, who is supported by the pan-democrats, loses, "it is not as if a pro-democracy candidate has lost", he said, noting that he is also a member of the establishment like Mrs Lam.

While the chief executive is not chosen by universal suffrage, the three hopefuls tried to win over not just election committee members, but also some 7.3 million residents.

Apart from more than 100 closed-door meetings with election committee members, candidates hit the streets to greet residents, visit grassroots groups, crossed swords in televised debates and attended online talk shows hosted by veteran politician Emily Lau, the former chairman of the Democratic Party.

Both Mr Tsang and Mr Woo have pledged political reform in their manifestos, while Mrs Lam said tackling the city's perennial housing issues is her priority.

The front runners, Mrs Lam and Mr Tsang, made last-ditch efforts yesterday to win support.

Last night, thousands attended Mr Tsang's rally at Edinburgh Place in Central which was broadcast live on Facebook. The rally video received more than 400,000 views and over 18,000 comments.

"I hope that the election committee members, who have the power to elect the next chief executive, would heed our call to help heal the rift in our society and make HK the home that we have always imagined it to be," he told the crowd.

Meanwhile, Mrs Lam took out an advertisement in the Post yesterday. "At this time, seeing that our society has been continuously pulling away in opposite directions and that conflicts persist among us, I believe it is critical and urgent that we set aside our differences and come together again for the city we love," she wrote in the advertisement.

Ms Lau said she found it "quite pathetic" that Hong Kongers are happy that the candidates are reaching out to them though "they all know that they have no vote".

Only 1,194 people can vote, though there are more than three million registered voters, she said.

She told The Straits Times: "To me, this is not a real election. I say it's a charade."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Hong Kong to choose chief executive amid tensions over election'. Print Edition | Subscribe