Activists in Hong Kong face charges despite promises from the new leader to “heal divisions”
The first woman to be elected Hong Kong’s chief executive has promised to “heal the divide,” after winning the majority of votes cast by a 1,200-person committee Sunday. Though Carrie Lam is unpopular with Hong Kong’s residents, she was Beijing’s preferred candidate and the obvious favorite to win.
Lam’s victory comes at a fractious time in Hong Kong politics. The day after her win, police cracked down on key leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests. On Monday, nine activists, including two sitting lawmakers, received phone calls from the police and were told they were being charged with “creating a nuisance in a public place.” Lam said she had no knowledge of the police’s intent.
Amnesty International issued a statement decrying the action Monday: “The timing of the charges, the day after Carrie Lam won the closed race to be the city’s new chief executive, raises serious questions as to whether political maneuverings were a factor in the decision to bring charges now.”
John Tsang, the former Secretary of Finance, and a far more popular candidate in the city, received just 365 votes in the election. He conceded his loss on Facebook, writing that he hoped Lam would be “able to bring about a more harmonious future for a better Hong Kong,” while urging his supporters to “not lose heart” in the city.
Demosisto, a pro-democracy party founded by the student activists who led the 2014 mass protests, issued a statement saying that Lam’s victory showed the “Chinese Communist Party’s complete control over Hong Kong’s electoral process,” and called it a “serious intrusion” into the city’s autonomy.
The party promised a “large civil disobedience protest” on July 1 – the day of Lam’s inauguration as well as the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to attend in a rare appearance in the city.
Including the 14 electors who abstained in the election, only 1163 votes were considered valid. One ballot was not counted as it had the character for “fuck” scrawled across it:
— Venus Wu (@wu_venus) March 26, 2017
Hong Kong’s ever-cynical netizens were quick to make jokes about the fact that Lam won 777 votes – “7” being Cantonese slang for “penis.” Joshua Wong, the student activist who has protested repeatedly at Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, tweeted that Lam had won “with only 777 votes.” The incumbent chief executive, CY Leung, was sarcastically nicknamed “689” by his critics for the number of votes he received in his own election.
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when it was returned to Chinese rule with the promise of 50 years of autonomy. Massive protests demanding universal suffrage brought the city to a standstill for weeks in 2014, but the city’s leader continues to be elected by a small committee comprised mostly of Hong Kong’s elite.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS