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Mass Protest Challenges New Hong Kong Leader


Former Hong Kong Chief Executives Tung Chee-hwa (front L), Donald Tsang (front R), new Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (front 2nd L), his wife during a ceremony in Hong Kong, July 1, 2012.

Former Hong Kong Chief Executives Tung Chee-hwa (front L), Donald Tsang (front R), new Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (front 2nd L), his wife during a ceremony in Hong Kong, July 1, 2012.

Hong Kong's new leader, Leung Chun-ying, has had a turbulent start to his five-year term, with more than 100,000 people joining an anti-government rally just hours after he took office. The mass demonstration is one of several major problems facing Leung as he tries to build his administration.

Hong Kong's annual July 1 protest march from the city's Victoria Park to the government headquarters was the biggest of its kind in the semi-autonomous Chinese region since 2004.

Local academics said Sunday's rally had a turnout of about 100,000 to 120,000 people. Many protesters called for the resignation of Leung Chun-ying, who had just been sworn in as Hong Kong's chief executive earlier in the day.

The 57-year-old wealthy businessman and former government official was selected for the city's top job in March by a 1,200-member committee mostly loyal to the Chinese government.


Protesters: Leung Doesn't Represent Us

Emily Lau is a deputy leader of Hong Kong's Democratic Party and a member of the Legislative Council, or Legco. Speaking to VOA by phone a day after joining the march, she said protesters were upset because they fear Leung will not represent their interests.

"They don't like him, they think that he is just going to be a puppet of Beijing, and so "one country, two systems" - this policy promised to Hong Kong by the elder [Chinese] statesman Deng Xiaoping - is more or less in tatters," Lau said. "And people are afraid that with more and more interference by the central government, Hong Kong will lose its high degree of autonomy and the freedoms, the rule of law, civil liberties."

Luxury Home Scandal Triggers Anger

Marchers also were angered by Leung's acknowledgment last month that illegal modifications were made to his luxury home. He apologized publicly for the illicit structure and removed it, but the pro-democracy lawmaker said doubts remain about his honesty.

"He had originally said that he did not build it but now it turned out that maybe he did, so people are calling him a liar," Lau said. "And that is very, very bad. So I don't know how he is going to be able to put that behind him. I can't see a better way than to have an investigation by someone who is truly independent and respected and then to come out with a report. Otherwise, people are going to ask him questions every day and he would be giving little bits here and little bits there, so I just don't see how the government can function."

Observers said Sunday's big march also was a protest against the suspicious death of veteran pro-democracy activist Li Wangyang in central China last month, an incident that Beijing called an accident.

Concerns About Mainland Influence

Michael DeGolyer is a professor of government at Hong Kong Baptist University. He told VOA that many protesters believe Chinese authorities killed the activist and lied about it. They worry about the implications for Hong Kong.

"There's quite a concern about corruption and about lying and about Hong Kong becoming like the mainland," DeGolyer said. "And there is a lot of fear that CY Leung will govern more like the mainland than along the lines of traditional Hong Kong values."

DeGolyer said other factors driving people to protest included Hong Kong's huge gap between the rich and poor, and middle class anger about salaries remaining stagnant for years despite rising inflation.

Leung Pledges to Listen 'Seriously'

In comments to reporters Monday, Leung promised to listen "seriously and humbly" to the people's demands and try to fulfill them.

But protesters heckled the new leader as he tried to meet with residents at a public forum later in the day, triggering a chaotic scene that forced police to escort him away.

In another challenge to Leung, pro-democracy parties who led the July 1 march are seeking to win more Legco seats in a September 9 election, to enable them to veto government policies. Pro-establishment lawmakers who dominate the outgoing assembly also have been plagued by infighting between supporters of Leung and backers of his main rival in March's chief executive contest.

Two Months to Act Before Election

DeGolyer said Leung can overcome the challenges by acting quickly.

"If he acts between now and the election in September in ways that shore up his voiced support for the Basic Law and some of the values of Hong Kong; if he makes sure that he is clean and his officials are clean in terms of various rule-keeping, as officials are expected to anywhere, then he should be able to recover from this."

Legco will be expanded from 60 to 70 seats in the upcoming election, with half of the seats being directly elected and most of the others being selected by special interest groups that tend to side with the establishment.
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