Hong Kong likely to vote in Bei­jing’s pick amid ten­sion

Saturday Star - - NEWS -

HONG KONG: To­mor­row Hong Kong will likely se­lect Bei­jing’s favoured can­di­date for its next leader, a choice some say would fur­ther di­vide a city in which mid­dle-class fam­i­lies have be­come in­creas­ingly dis­af­fected by po­lit­i­cal ten­sion and eco­nomic hard­ship.

The for­mer British colony, gov­erned un­der a “one coun­try, two sys­tems” ar­range­ment, was promised a high de­gree of au­ton­omy and the right to se­lect its chief ex­ec­u­tive when it was handed over to com­mu­nist Chi­nese rule in 1997.

But 20 years later, only 1 200 people on an elec­tion com­mit­tee stacked with Bei­jing loy­al­ists will vote for the next leader of the Asian fi­nan­cial hub which wit­nessed weeks of some­times vi­o­lent street protests in 2014 call­ing for uni­ver­sal suf­frage.

For­mer top civil ser­vant Car­rie Lam is widely ex­pected to win, thanks to Bei­jing’s back­ing.

For­mer fi­nance chief John Tsang, more pop­u­lar with the city’s 7.3 mil­lion people, is ex­pected to get around a quar­ter of the vote.

An evening rally for Tsang yes­ter­day drew thou­sands who thronged the cen­tral fi­nan­cial dis­trict call­ing for a pop­ulist leader to be elected for once.

With Lam’s vic­tory on the cards, some mid­dle-class res­i­dents see the lack of democ­racy again fu­elling po­lit­i­cal divi­sion and fresh protests, leav­ing them pow­er­less to tackle liveli­hood is­sues such as high prop­erty prices and ris­ing in­equal­ity.

“The mid­dle class are af­fected by sev­eral prob­lems, the rule of law, gov­er­nance, hous­ing,” said Nick Chung, 25, who works in IT.

“It’s no longer a mat­ter of help­ing the mid­dle class alone. It’s a struc­tural prob­lem.”

Lam has spo­ken of uni­fy­ing Hong Kong as one of her top pri­or­i­ties, but some ex­pect her back­ing from Bei­jing to have the op­po­site ef­fect.

Politi­cians and in­sid­ers say Bei­jing’s in­ter­fer­ence has been un­prece­dented, vi­o­lat­ing con­sti­tu­tional safe­guards of the city’s au­ton­omy.

Mark Pink­stone, a re­tired civil ser­vant who cam­paigned for Regina Ip, an­other for­mer top of­fi­cial eye­ing the top job who dropped out of the race, said many elec­tion com­mit­tee mem­bers had re­ceived calls and had face-to-face meet­ings with Chi­nese of­fi­cials who lob­bied them to vote a cer­tain way. – Reuters

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