HONG KONG - Struggling leader Carrie Lam presented her annual policy address via video on Wednesday (Oct 16) after some lawmakers disrupted the legislative session, shouting and jeering as she started her speech.
Mrs Lam's third annual policy address, expected to focus on housing and livelihoods of the people, got off to a rocky start, with pan-democrats heckling the Chief Executive, who was unable to continue her speech.
The pan-democrats stood up during the session at the Legislative Council (LegCo) in Admiralty with a banner depicting a large group of protesters, and signs saying “five demands, not one less”.
After arriving in the room, Mrs Lam spoke for less than a minute under the chants of the pan-dems before LegCo president Andrew Leung asked legislators for silence. The session resumed after a 15-minute adjournment but was interrupted again.
Several pan-democratic lawmakers, including Tanya Chan, were asked to leave the chambers for disrupting proceedings but they ignored the warnings.
In a statement sent out shortly before 12pm, the government said Mrs Lam would deliver the policy address in a video.
"To allow members of the public to know in full the various initiatives in it, she will deliver the Policy Address to members of the public through video at about 12.15pm today (Wednesday). Members of the public can view the broadcast on TV and the Policy Address website (www.policyaddress.gov.hk)," the statement said.
Civic Party’s Ms Chan urged Mrs Lam to step down.
Speaking to the media after the session was aborted a second time, Ms Chan said: "In the past four months, Hong Kong people have had a very difficult time, (a) very, very tough time. However, our Chief Executive Mrs Carrie Lam refuse to respond or to resolve the problem.
"Our five demands are very clear, not one less, and I really urge her, if she can't govern Hong Kong and she has no determination to govern Hong Kong, and she has no ability and even incapable in administrating Hong Kong, please step down," she said.
She added: "This is the only way that we can have a good future and this is the only way that Hong Kong can go forward. Please, please Mrs Carrie Lam, please don't let us suffer anymore. Please go."
At a press conference later, Mrs Lam told journalists she felt her duty had been completed on Wednesday because she entered the LegCo while it was in session and did attempt to deliver the policy address.
Asked about whether the morning’s events mean that the legislature and executive now have tensions, she said she is still willing to meet with legislators. She has a schedule session in LegCo on Thursday to take questions from lawmakers.
“I’m still willing to meet with LegCo members. Tomorrow there’s such an opportunity and I hope the session can go on as per normal.”
Asked why she did not answer protesters' demands in her policy address, she said: “It boils down to two issues: the erosion of freedoms and the want for greater democracy. I don’t subscribe to the fact that Hong Kongers are losing their rights in any way. There’s freedom of speech, freedom of journalism.
"As for democracy, it’s a complex issue... I’ve previously come up with a comprehensive package on this but it was voted down by the same group of (LegCo) members who are asking for debate on the same issue.”
Asked whether she is Hong Kong's biggest problem, Mrs Lam said that any solution to the social unrest cannot deviate from the very principles that keeps Hong Kong going, which are the adherence to "One Country Two Systems"; the rule of law and the sanctity of Hong Kong’s institutions.
She said that of the five demands, the call for amnesty to protesters goes against the rule of law and is “illegal as far as I’m concerned”.
“I’m afraid that’s something I cannot consider.”
Security had been beefed up ahead of Mrs Lam’s address, with the area around Admiralty in lockdown. It comes amid a crisis that has rocked the territory for the past 19 weeks.
Mrs Lam had said on Tuesday that she chose sky-blue again as her theme colour, to symbolise a fresh start for the city. She had picked the same colour for the previous two policy addresses.
Local media had reported that land supply could top the list of 200 policy initiatives expected in the address, including seizure of land from private developers for public housing by invoking the Lands Resumption Ordinance and creating an independent body tasked to build more transitional housing for the ballooning proportion of people waiting for public flats.
Livelihood issues are expected to form another pillar of Mrs Lam’s address, with Executive Councillor Lam Ching Choi predicting that the blueprint will go big on anti-poverty measures, and initiatives to address the needs of the elderly, local broadcaster RTHK said.
It added that there are low expectations for overtly political measures to address the demands of the anti-government movement.
Ahead of the embattled leader’s speech, the United States House of Representatives passed a Bill late on Tuesday aimed at Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act would end Hong Kong’s special trading status with the US unless the State Department certifies annually that city authorities are respecting human rights and the rule of law.
It also requires the American president to identify and sanction people who are responsible for the erosion of autonomy and serious abuses of human rights in the city.
China, which has accused “external forces” of fuelling weeks of unrest in the global financial hub, expressed its “strong indignation” over the Bill and told Washington to “stop meddling”.
“We express our strong indignation and firm opposition to the US House of Representatives’ insistence on passing the so-called ‘Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act’,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
The central government's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) also strongly condemned the passage of the Bill, and said the US was "directly responsible" for the growing intensity of the protests in Hong Kong.
"Such behaviour grossly interferes in China's internal affairs, openly cheers on opposition and radical forces in Hong Kong, and fully exposes the US House of Representatives' and some politicians' plot of using the 'Hong Kong card' to contain and check China's development," said HKMAO spokesman Yang Guang.
Early on Wednesday, the Hong Kong government issued a statement expressing “regret” over the passage of the Bill, adding that it has upheld the 'one country, two systems' principle, so “foreign legislatures should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of the city”.