Protest march ahead of crucial HK polls

Protestors march through the streets on the eve of the Hong Kong Chief Executive election in Hong Kong.
Protestors march through the streets on the eve of the Hong Kong Chief Executive election in Hong Kong.PHOTO: EPA

For two decades, Hong Kongers had looked forward to this day, which was supposed to be the first time they would get to vote for their city's top leader.

But that will not be the case. Even before the first vote is cast in today's chief executive election, Hong Kongers took to the streets yesterday to protest.

Only 1,194 members of an election committee - made up of mostly pro-Beijing property tycoons and lawmakers, as well as representatives of professional bodies and trade associations - will get to vote for the next chief executive.

''It's a scam election! What we want is a one-man, one-vote election. We want universal suffrage. We want to pick our own government,'' said an IT professional in his 30s, who wanted to be known only as MrTong.

He had joined about 1,000 protesters in a march yesterday.

Before the march, protesters were warned by police that they could face prosecution as the organiser did not inform the Commissioner of Police of the event, as required by law.

But the warnings fell on deaf ears as protesters proceeded from Causeway Bay to Revenue Tower in Wan Chai, chanting slogans like ''We don't want Carrie Lam! We want real election'' and ''We want universal suffrage''.

Mrs Lam, a former chief secretary, is the favourite to win as she is backed by Beijing.

One protester, undergraduate Kitty Chong, 25, accused Beijing of breaking its promises made to Hong Kong during the handover. ''We were promised universal suffrage and a right to elect our own leader,'' she said.

When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the central government promised a high degree of autonomy for the city, which would be governed under a ''one country, two systems'' framework. Beijing also pledged to let Hong Kongers vote for their own leader.

In 2014, it proposed an electoral reform package where a nominating committee that it controls would pick the candidates, and all Hong Kongers could cast a vote for who they want as their next chief executive in 2017.

But the same year, thousands of Hong Kongers, mainly students, camped out in the streets for 79 days, to protest against the proposal which was eventually voted down by lawmakers.

The rejection of the package meant that Hong Kong had to go back to the old system, where a committee votes for the chief executive.

Today's leadership race will see Mrs Lam, 59, former financial chief John Tsang, 65, and retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70, fighting for the votes.

Mrs Lam stands a high chance of winning as the election committee is packed with Beijing loyalists, said analysts.

Meanwhile, more than 290 pro-democracy lawmakers have pledged their support for Mr Tsang,who has also received the highest public support ratings.

But Mr Tsang would need more than 300 votes from the pro-Beijing camp, as the winner needs to get at least 601 votes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Protest march ahead of crucial HK polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe