Leung Wins Amid Shouts of 'Shame'

Hong Kong's elite pick a staunch Beijing supporter to be the southern Chinese financial hub's next leader.
2012-03-26
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Hong Kong Chief Executive elect Leung Chun-ying (L) smiles as he meets with Chief Executive Donald Tsang (R) in Hong Kong, March 26, 2012.
AFP

Hong Kong's leader-elect Leung Chun-ying visited China's liaison office in the territory, a day after his narrow win in Sunday's elections as democratic politicians accused the ruling Chinese Communist Party of meddling in Hong Kong's political life.

Leung, a Beijing loyalist, won the vote by 689 votes out of a total of nearly 1,200 ballots cast by an election committee hand-picked by Beijing. His count exceeded the minimum number of votes by the smallest margin yet, compared with his two predecessors.

Leung's victory came after vigorous behind-the-scenes canvassing by Chinese officials following a series of scandals linked to his chief rival and former civil service chief Henry Tang, according to sources close to the electoral committee.

His victory was announced by officials on Sunday amid raucous shouts of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" from protesters.

"Leung Chun-ying's rise to power signals the beginning of the white terror," protesters shouted. "Hong Kong people will be ready to fight this to the last."

Pepper spray

Police fired pepper spray at crowds to prevent them from barging into the ceremony at Hong Kong's harborside Convention and Exhibition Center, scene of the official handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Among those hit by the spray was democratic legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, who accused Chinese officials of foiling attempts to pursue an investigation into possible conflicts of interest.

"They called up the chief executive's office and told them not to make certain material available to the Legislative Council," Lee told reporters. "They also warned the heads of the major media organizations to be careful how they reported the allegations against Leung."

Under the terms of its 1997 handover from British rule, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.

But journalists fear that media organizations in the territory may nevertheless be highly susceptible to self-censorship, for fear of angering powerful corporations or high-ranking officials in mainland China.

Hong Kong has seen a number of outspoken radio personalities depart from key talk shows in the years since the handover of sovereignty to Beijing, while China's own dissidents in exile have repeatedly been denied permission to enter the territory, which administers its own immigration controls.

"We are most concerned that Leung will now run Hong Kong on behalf of the Central Liaison Office," said Lee, calling for further demonstrations next Sunday.

"The office has always thought ever since the [1997] handover that Hong Kong had too much freedom ... that Hong Kong people always go too far."

Climate of fear

Democratic candidate Albert Ho accused Chinese officials of canvassing on Leung's behalf and of creating a climate of fear around the polling procedure, which was designed by Beijing in spite of widespread calls for the territory's top official to be elected by universal ballot.

"This entire electoral process right up until today has been nauseating," Ho said after the results were announced. "We must implement full, direct elections in Hong Kong as soon as possible."

He called on Hong Kong people to take to the streets in support of the Democratic Party's proposals.

Leung on Monday visited the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong, remaining inside the building for around 30 minutes, local media reported.

He was seen as far as the gate by the Office's deputy director, Li Gang, who shook his hand on parting in a meeting that was widely slammed by pro-democratic politicians.

"Previously, when [politicians] went to the Liaison Office, they would do it on the quiet, and they would never admit to having been there," Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu said on Monday.

"Now you can see that [Leung] is behaving as if the people of Hong Kong don't exist," she said.

Liberal Party chairman Miriam Lau said it was unwise of Leung to visit the office.

"Now there is all sorts of speculation around possible interference of the Liaison Office in Hong Kong's elections," Lau said.

"For Leung Chun-ying to go there will make people even more sure that the Liaison Office is interfering in Hong Kong affairs."

Change of mind

China is believed to have changed its mind over its preferred candidate for chief executive late in the race, sending a top official to hold meetings with the 1,200 voters, just over half of whom cast votes for Leung.

The election committee, which is stacked with tycoons, politicians, and other public figures loyal to Beijing, was left in a difficult position, as both Tang's and Leung's campaigns had been tainted by scandal.

Tang's campaign was marred by a scandal over an illegal basement extension to his home and rumors of marital infidelity, while Leung is under investigation over allegations of conflict of interest.

Incumbent Donald Tsang has also been slammed in the local media in recent weeks for taking favors from local tycoons, including trips on private jets.

Ivan Choy, who teaches politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Leung probably felt the need to shore up his authority as, unlike Tang, he lacked the ability to unify the various interest groups in the territory.

"His majority was even lower than those of [former chief executive] Tung Chee-hwa and [incumbent] Donald Tsang," Choy said. "Secondly, he lacks popular support, and thirdly, he lacks the ability to unify people."

"He must be worrying how many people are going to be taking to the streets this July 1," he said, in reference to the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

"How many people will protest in the streets on the day that he assumes office?"

Frustrated

Losing candidate Henry Tang meanwhile thanked his supporters, who included Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, and called on Leung to uphold the "one country, two systems" model and to listen to Hong Kong people's views.

Hong Kong's residents are becoming increasingly frustrated with Beijing’s approach to the self-governing territory, saying the central government is dragging its feet on commitments to greater democracy made during the handover.

Only half of Hong Kong's lawmakers are elected, while the remainder are drawn from district legislators and functional constituencies which favor the territory's business communities and pro-China groups.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.