Carrie Lam Wins Hong Kong Chief Executive Race Amid Pro-Democracy Protests

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Carrie Lam speaks to the media after her selection as the next chief executive of Hong Kong, March 26, 2017
Carrie Lam speaks to the media after her selection as the next chief executive of Hong Kong, March 26, 2017

Beijing's preferred candidate Carrie Lam was voted in as the next chief executive of Hong Kong on Sunday by a 1,200-strong election committee packed with supporters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, as pro-democracy demonstrators turned out once more with yellow umbrellas, and a banner calling for fully democratic elections hung from the city's iconic Lion Rock.

Lam polled 777 votes, soundly beating nearest rival John Tsang, who despite leading in most public opinion polls, won just 365 votes. Also-ran Woo Kwok-hing won 21.

"Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness and has accumulated a lot of frustration,” Lam told reporters after her victory. "My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustration -- and to unite our society to move forward."

Above the city, a banner familiar from the 79-day Umbrella movement hung from the 'ear' of a massive rock overlooking Kowloon. "I want real universal suffrage!" it said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters demonstrated for full democracy, including members of Demosisto, a political party formed by former student leaders of the movement, including Joshua Wong.

"This result is a nightmare for Hong Kong people," Demosisto said in a statement on its Facebook page on Sunday. "But it is our hope that those who have previously fought, and continue to fight, for fair political representation in Hong Kong will not lose momentum."

One protest, organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, was billed as an act of civil disobedience after it deliberately ignored police warnings to apply for permission to march beforehand.

Marchers carried banners that read "Against the Chinese Communist Party's soft-touch leader!" and "The people won't give up!"

Meaningless poll?

Meanwhile, in an embarrassing moment at the election center, a photo of a defaced ballot paper bearing the scribbled character for a Cantonese expletive was briefly projected onto a screen and broadcast on live television.

"In an expression of anger at the closed-circle election, someone had written the character 'fuck' alongside the slogan 'I want real universal suffrage, people should resist without fear!'," the Sing Pao Daily News reported on its website.

Several pan-democratic members of the election committee had previously told reporters that they couldn't bring themselves to vote for any of the candidates, as Lam was widely seen as having Beijing's backing right from the start, rendering the poll meaningless.

The mustachioed Tsang had fought a highly visible campaign, deploying a Taiwan-style "battle bus", and drawing crowds of thousands to a rally on the eve of the poll. But none of his supporters had the opportunity to vote for him. He conceded defeat on Sunday, calling on Hong Kong to "rally behind" Lam.

Another banner suspended briefly from a pedestrian walkway near the polling station in the convention and exhibition center read, according to video posted to Twitter: "We oppose Beijing's appointment. We want to choose our own government."

It was rapidly taken down by police, who were out in force in the area, social media posts showed.

Lam's vote tally is 88 votes higher than that of incumbent Leung Chun-ying, who faced repeated ridicule from Occupy Central protesters for the number, amid calls for his resignation.

But "777", also rich with possibilities for unflattering puns and political jokes in numbers-obsessed Hong Kong, has already taken hold as Lam's new nickname on social media, recent posts to Facebook showed.

"777 minus 689 = 88," one post read. "Say 88 (bye-bye) to Hong Kong!"

Short honeymoon

Hong Kong's eligible voters could have cast their ballots on Sunday under arrangements proposed by Beijing on Aug. 31, 2014. But China's insistence that it be allowed to pre-approve candidates rendered the reform meaningless to many, and sparked the Occupy Central movement for "real universal suffrage." The reforms were later defeated in the Legislative Council.

Former student leader-turned-lawmaker Nathan Law said none of the candidates represented the desire of Hong Kong people for full democracy as expressed during the Occupy Central movement.

"Lam's honeymoon period will be very short, and there will be very loud voices speaking against her," Law predicted.

"This election showed that Beijing already has full control over all of the pro-establishment nominations and votes, and that all the reports that some of the pro-establishment votes might switch camps [to support John Tsang] turned out to be wrong," Law told reporters.

"But I would like to tell everyone in the fight for democracy that it's not over yet."

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok said Carrie Lam’s victory was regrettable.

"The election result is directly contrary to the majority public opinion of the Hong Kong people," Kwok told journalists. "It is regrettable that they have decided to exercise their vote that way."

"It will simply make governing Hong Kong much more difficult in the next five years, and [is] not good for one country, two systems," he warned.

China's parliamentary chief has already warned Hong Kong that Beijing has the right to reject any leader chosen by the city in forthcoming elections, as democracy activists in the city accused Beijing of interfering in the city's internal politics by making their support for Lam known.

The pro-China Ta Kung Pao newspaper ran a headline on Sunday that read simply: "Vote for Lam."

Under the terms of the 1997 handover, the former British colony was promised a "high degree of autonomy" and the maintenance of its existing freedoms, including an independent judiciary, and freedom of press, publication and association.

But press freedom groups have said editorial independence in the city is now a thing of the past, while U.S. and British officials have expressed concerns over the cross-border detentions of five Hong Kong booksellers for selling "banned" political books to customers across the internal border in mainland China.

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Wang Siwei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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