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Hong Kong’s New Chief Executive: Unfit to Lead

Hong Kong’s New Chief Executive: Unfit to Lead

Image source: Wikimedia

Image source: Wikimedia

By Emily Lim, Managing Editor of the Emory Globe, and Joshua Wong, co-founder and secretary of Hong Kong political party Demosisto.

In a fundamentally undemocratic election, former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was chosen as the Hong Kong’s first female chief executive. Since her election resulted from the lack of real choice, Lam lacks the public support needed to unite the deeply divided city.

Although Lam was elected with 777 out of a possible 1,194 votes in Hong Kong’s election committee, the vote was hardly democratic. The committee consists of a small group of representatives who are chosen by special interest and business-related groups in Hong Kong. Such an elitist group cannot be representative of a city of seven million, as it can easily override popular will. This is exactly how the 2017 elections played out. Lam’s closest competitor, former Financial Secretary John Tsang, was shown by multiple polls to be the overwhelmingly favored candidate among the general public, and yet was defeated.

Protest signs opposing the small circle Chief Executive “election” at a journalist’s conference after Carrie Lam announced her intention to run. Source: Wikimedia

Protest signs opposing the small circle Chief Executive “election” at a journalist’s conference after Carrie Lam announced her intention to run. Source: Wikimedia

That a small, elitist circle selected Lam means that her administration will lack the public mandate when she begins her term. Her lack of popularity is compounded by the fact that she served in the already controversial administration of her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying. Leung was embroiled in allegations of corruption and suffered from dwindling popularity ratings. In addition, polls showed that almost 70% of the public would not have supported his election into a second term. Clearly, Lam has not been able to disassociate herself from Leung’s divisive legacy, and many have referred to her as “Leung Chun-ying 2.0.”

Lam is the first Chief Executive to be elected after the 2014 mass pro-democracy Occupy Central movement, also known as the Umbrella Revolution. Although the Occupy movement itself has ended, fears of Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong have lingered. These fears grew especially after a series of booksellers who sold politically sensitive books disappeared in late 2015.

Lam has claimed that her administration will “heal the social divide” and unite Hong Kong. In reality, however, Lam is not the solution to ease growing fears and build solidarity. In fact, Lam has already proven that she cannot heal the growing divide between pro-establishment and pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong. During the 2014 occupy protests, she headed the government’s Task Force on Constitutional Development and held talks with student leaders. However, she failed to find a compromise, illustrating her ineffectiveness in bridging the political gap. Ultimately, proposed reforms of the electoral system were rejected by the Legislative Council in mid-2015.

Furthermore, Lam has already shown that she will not prioritize the issue of universal suffrage. Although in 2007 Beijing pledged that the 2017 chief executive election would be implemented by “method[s] of universal suffrage,” clearly, this has not been the case. When asked about the issue of universal suffrage, Lam remarked that her administration will “resolve the simpler, less controversial issues.” That Lam is so dismissive of a fundamental and much-disputed issue is indicative of her inability to facilitate compromise in a growingly divided city.

Already, Lam has become a divisive and controversial figure. In January, she was embroiled in controversy when she launched a HK$3.5 billion plan to build a Beijing Palace Museum in Hong Kong without public consultation. Her credibility is further undermined by the fact that multiple pro-establishment lawmakers have claimed that they were encouraged to support Lam by figures close to Beijing.

Carrie Lam speaking at a press conference about the Palace Museum controversy. Source: Wikimedia

Carrie Lam speaking at a press conference about the Palace Museum controversy. Source: Wikimedia

July 1st of 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. There will surely be mass celebrations, but also mass pro-democracy protests. Even prior to beginning her term, Carrie Lam has been tainted by the poor legacy of her predecessor, and has already proven herself incapable of easing a growingly polarized populous. Furthermore, her administration will not be able to extricate itself from her undemocratic selection.

It is hardly democratic that a group of 1,200 electors, many of whom have close political and business ties with Beijing, are asked to represent a city of over 7 million. Carrie Lam was selected, not elected. Until Hong Kongers are able to democratically elect a representative leader under the principles of universal suffrage, the city will remain divided, and we will continue to resist.

Emory Journal of International Affairs - Spring 2017

Emory Journal of International Affairs - Spring 2017

A Double Standard: The Disparity Between EU Membership Criteria and Member Behavior

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