Going Global: Hong Kong
Columns / April 13, 2017
Will Carrie Lam be status quo for Hong Kong?
Tristan Johnston, Coordinating Editor
A few weeks ago Hong Kong held its election for Chief Executive, the highest political position within the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The winner, Carrie Lam, is friendly to Beijing—but that’s not much of a surprise.
Hong Kong is famously a “false democracy,” or, worded another way, not a democracy at all. Only 1,194 of the island’s 7 million people are allowed to vote for the next leader, and the election committee is packed with business people, politicians, and groups that are close to Beijing.
Hong Kong’s Legislative Council elections are more democratic, taking place every four years, but they’re still exceptionally weird. 35 of the 70 seats are determined geographically, in the way that many democracies are accustomed to. However, the other 35 seats are “functional constituencies” and are decided by industries. This means that labour unions get to decide three of the seats (they’re a special case), agriculture gets one, legal gets one, education gets one, and so on. Some of these votes are “heavier” than others in the sense that the geographical constituencies represent around 50,000 people each, while some of the functional seats can be decided by as little as 100 people.
While 20 years have passed since the Chinese handover in 1997, the mainland government is consistently frustrated with Hong Kong’s defiant population who wish to keep their political freedoms and unique identity in tact. With this being the first election since the Umbrella revolution in 2014, and considering the various political controversies that have happened in the meantime, many were concerned with the direction the city was going in.
Essentially, the mainland government decided who they preferred to win the top job back in January. With regards to sovereignty, Hong Kong does indeed belong to China, and China wants to control the region while also maintaining order and keeping the good economic engine running.
Even though Carrie Lam won, her opponent John Tsang would have likely won if Hong Kong had a more democratic system. Amongst the general Hong Kong population, Tsang was well within the 50 to 55 per cent range within the last days of the election.
Tsang has held various financial positions within Donald Tsang and CY Leung’s administrations, and the residents of Hong Kong have him to thank for that HKD$6,000 they got in 2011, as it was his decision to give a large government surplus back to the people. While Tsang was part of the pro-Beijing coalition, many believe that Beijing considered him insufficient due to his lack of condemnation of the Umbrella Movement, and for expressing appreciation for the 2015 film “Ten Years” which imagines a future Hong Kong with less political freedom.
Comparatively, Lam has been getting far less popular support. After she was announced the winner with 777 votes, the Hong Kong internet took off with memes at her expense, as “seven” in Cantonese is one tone away from “tsat,” which is a slang term for “erect penis” or “stupid.”
Even though Lam said in her victory speech that she would do her best to move Hong Kong towards greater “unity” and to be less divisive, many in Hong Kong consider her to be “CY Leung 2.0.” The people of Hong Kong fear for, and sadly expect, a city that is slowly becoming more like China.