Beijing endorses election of Carrie Lam as HK's new leader

It was V for victory for pro-China supporters after Mrs Lam's win, while pro-democracy supporters, holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of their movement, rallied near the Convention Centre in Hong Kong yesterday.
It was V for victory for pro-China supporters after Mrs Lam's win, while pro-democracy supporters, holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of their movement, rallied near the Convention Centre in Hong Kong yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
It was V for victory for pro-China supporters after Mrs Lam's win, while pro-democracy supporters, holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of their movement, rallied near the Convention Centre in Hong Kong yesterday.
It was V for victory for pro-China supporters after Mrs Lam's win, while pro-democracy supporters, holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of their movement, rallied near the Convention Centre in Hong Kong yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But she has uphill task of trying to unite a politically divided society facing slow growth, high property prices

Beijing has endorsed the election of Mrs Carrie Lam as Hong Kong's fourth chief executive, saying she fulfils the central government's criteria for the position.

These are "to be patriotic, have the trust of the central government, possess governing capacity and have the support of the Hong Kong people", said a spokesman for the Cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office yesterday.

The spokesman added that the election was held in accordance with the Basic Law, the city's mini-Constitution, relevant decisions by China's Parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), and the city's electoral laws.

It was "open, fair, just and stable", the Xinhua state news agency quoted the spokesman as saying.

Earlier, signalling Beijing's approval of Mrs Lam, 59, mainland media declared her the winner even before the vote count ended, after she passed the halfway mark of 600 votes. Soon after, mainland news websites began carrying biographies of the Chief Executive-elect. A biographic video on sina.com had her saying Hong Kong was an inseparable part of China and that any expression of Hong Kong independence was "wrong".

 
 
 

Mrs Lam, until recently the chief secretary, No. 2 to outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, won the election by a committee of 1,194 members with 777 votes, higher than her former boss' 689 in 2012. This was also more than double the 365 votes of her nearest rival, former financial secretary John Tsang.

The election was marred by protests last Saturday and yesterday by pro-democracy activists demanding universal suffrage.

The NPC had ruled in 2007 that Hong Kong was to have universal suffrage in this year's chief executive election. However, a reform proposal allowing for a popularly elected leader but with candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing committee was rejected by the Legislative Council in 2015.

The reform proposal was also rejected by young pro-democracy activists who led a 79-day Occupy Central protest in 2014 to demand greater political freedoms.

The failed protests led to a nascent separatist movement that has worried Beijing, with Premier Li Keqiang in his annual work report earlier this month referring to it, saying "the notion of Hong Kong independence will lead to nowhere".

While Mrs Lam has soundly beaten her rivals in an election in which voters are largely pro-Beijing and pro-establishment, recent polls have shown her to be behind Mr Tsang in support from ordinary Hong Kongers - 29.5 per cent to Mr Tsang's 46.6 per cent.

The election also took place at a time when Hong Kong's society is not only politically divided but also facing anaemic economic growth, a widening income gap and high property prices that make housing unaffordable to many.

While Mrs Lam has vowed to unite Hong Kong's society, she faces an uphill task with an enlarged pro-democracy camp in the Legislative Council that views her as pro-Beijing and is therefore opposed to her.

Political analyst Zhao Kejin of Tsinghua University said Mrs Lam should prioritise improving Hong Kongers' livelihoods in order to win their support. "Through their support, she can then slowly gain the support of the Legislative Council," said Professor Zhao.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Beijing endorses election of Carrie Lam as HK's new leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe