Hong Kong elects China-backed first female leader Carrie Lam as chief executive

By Abdul Ruff

Mrs. Carrie Lam, 59, has been elected as Hong Kong’s first woman chief executive – the top government job.  Lam had the backing of the Chinese government in Beijing and was widely expected to win. Mrs Lam garnered 777 votes to Tsang’s 365. Woo received 21. Mrs Lam’s main rival, former finance chief John Tsang, was the public’s favourite, according to opinion polls. The third candidate, and the most liberal, was retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was among those protesting and was a lead figure in the umbrella movement, has called the electoral process “a selection rather than an election”. When the result was announced, he tweeted that Mrs Lam had been elected with “only 777 votes”.

Hong Kong is governed under the principle of “one country, two systems”, under which China has agreed to give the region semi-autonomous status since its 1997 handover from Britain.

The chief executive is not chosen by public vote but by a 1,200-strong committee dominated by pro-Beijing electors. Hong Kong’s Election Committee picked Mrs Lam to succeed current leader CY Leung, who will step down in July. She was formerly his deputy. Hong Kong has a degree of autonomy from Beijing but protests have been growing over Chinese interference. Pro-democracy groups held protests outside the election venue, calling the process a sham. Calls for fully free elections have failed, despite intense demonstrations, known as the “umbrella protests” in 2014.

The Election Committee includes 70 members of the territory’s legislature, the Legislative Council – half of whom are directly elected. However, most of the Election Committee is chosen by business, professional or special interest groups. Critics say entities that lean towards Beijing are given disproportionately large representation.

Social tensions 

In her acceptance speech, Mrs Lam said her first priority during her five-year term would be to reduce social tensions. She said she welcomed and encouraged a spectrum of voices and vowed to “tap the forces of our young people”. “They are often at the forefront of society, pulling and pushing us as a whole to make progress.” Mrs Lam also promised to uphold Hong Kong’s “core values” such as “inclusiveness, freedoms of the press and of speech, respect for human rights” and the rule of law.

Earlier, Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung had said he will not seek re-election in March, citing family reasons for the surprise announcement. Speaking at a news conference, Leung said: “If I run my family will suffer an intolerable stress.” Leung has often been accused by pro-democracy campaigners of putting China’s interests above those of the people of Hong Kong. He will step down when his term ends in July 2017.

His successor was elected by a 1,200-member, mostly pro-Beijing, Election Committee, rather than by the wider electorate.

Last year, pro-democracy activists secured 325 seats on the committee – the highest number ever, but not enough seats to determine the next chief executive. On Facebook, an online protest was launched called No Election in Hong Kong Now, which showed a video montage of regular citizens going about their business as the election took place to highlight how they were not entitled to participate. Leung has proved unpopular with large swathes of Hong Kong residents who consider him too tightly aligned to Beijing. At the end of the 2016, he made the unexpected announcement that he would not run again, citing family reasons.

Uphill battle

Mrs Lam, a long-time civil servant, is nicknamed the nanny because of her background running numerous government projects. During the 2014 protests, which were spearheaded by young people, she took the unpopular stance of defending Beijing’s concessions for political reform. This allowed Hong Kong people to choose their leader but only from pre-approved candidates.

Hong Kong’s new leader Carrie Lam has almost four decades of public service behind her. For five years she served as deputy to the man she is now replacing, the unpopular CY Leung. She has been praised as a strong administrator and pragmatic lawmaker, and is undoubtedly Beijing’s choice for the role. But she is widely disliked by the pro-democracy camp for her stance on political reform.

When mass rallies erupted in 2014, it was Mrs Lam who defended Beijing’s unpopular proposal – to allow Hong Kong people to choose their leader but only from pre-approved candidates – to crowds of protesters demanding full democracy. Many have also accused her of being out of touch with voters after gaffes, including a bizarre search for toilet paper and a failure to use a transport swipe card.

Mrs Lam comes from a working-class background, and joined the civil service in 1980 after graduating from the University of Hong Kong. After spells dealing with housing and social welfare, she served as the city’s secretary for development before moving into Hong Kong’s number two role, chief secretary, in 2012. She was not the popular candidate to replace  Leung – rival John Tsang scored far better in opinion polls – but was favored by those who decide who leads the territory.

There were multiple reports of Beijing lobbying for her and, a few days before the polls, Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, made comments seen by many as endorsing her. Ahead of the election, Mrs Lam talked about bringing more young voices into the government, improving transparency and accelerating development. “I am worried about the discontent that has emerged in our society,” she said in January. “I know our younger generation is concerned about the lack of upward mobility and the cost of housing.

But addressing young people’s concerns will require more than economic measures, and on restarting Hong Kong’s stalled political reform process she has been noncommittal. “The administration must consider whether the criteria and atmosphere are present,” she said. “Otherwise, we will draw Hong Kong into another series of divisions, and this is not favourable for the city’s development.”

Critics of Mrs Lam have nicknamed her “CY 2.0” – another version of the outgoing  Leung – and at the chief executive debate on 14 March, there was a telling exchange. Tsang asked her. “We are worried that if you get elected, society will experience ‘Divisiveness 2.0’.” His comments underline the challenge Mrs Lam is facing, balancing an intransigent Beijing with home-grown calls for full democracy that have not abated.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most significant financial centres, with the highest Financial Development Index score and consistently ranks as the world’s most competitive and freest economic entity.

Hong Kong is an autonomous territory, and former British colony, in southeastern China. Hong Kong is officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, is an autonomous territory on the Pearl River Delta of East Asia. Macau lies across the delta to the west, and the Chinese province of Guangdong borders the territory to the north. With a total land area of 1,106 square kilometres (427 sq mi) and a population of over 7.3 million of various nationalities, it ranks as the world’s fourth most densely populated sovereign state or territory.

Hong Kong is vibrant, densely populated urban centre is a major port and global financial hub with a skyscraper-studded skyline. Central (the business district) features architectural landmarks like I.M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower. Hong Kong is also a major shopping destination, famed for bespoke tailors and Temple Street Night Market.

After the First Opium War (1839–42), Hong Kong became a British colony with the perpetual cession of Hong Kong Island, followed by the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 and a 99-year lease of the New Territories from 1898. Hong Kong was later occupied by Japan during World War II until British control resumed in 1945. In the early 1980s, negotiations between the United Kingdom and China resulted in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which paved way for the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, when it became a special administrative region (SAR) with a high degree of autonomy.

Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong maintains a separate political and economic system from China. Except in military defence and foreign affairs, Hong Kong maintains its independent executive, legislative and judiciary powers. In addition, Hong Kong develops relations directly with foreign states and international organisations in a broad range of “appropriate fields”.

As the world’s 8th largest trading entity, its legal tender, the Hong Kong dollar, is the world’s 13th most traded currency. Hong Kong’s tertiary sector dominated economy is characterized by simple taxation with a competitive level of corporate tax and supported by its independent judiciary system. However, while Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, it suffers from severe income inequality.

Hong Kong is renowned for its deep natural harbour, which enables ready access by international cargo ships, and its impressive skyline, with a very high density of skyscrapers; the territory boasts the second largest number of high rises of any city in the world It has a very high Human Development Index ranking and the world’s longest life expectancy.

Hong Kong is much advanced than many third world nations, over 90% of the population makes use of well-developed public transportation. Seasonal with origins from neighbouring industrial areas of Mainland China, which adopts loose emissions standards, has resulted in a high level of atmospheric particulates.

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Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is an independent analyst; columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics; expert on Mideast affairs, chronicler of foreign occupations & freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.); Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA); commentator on world affairs & sport fixings, former university teacher and author of eBooks/books

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