Can HK achieve democracy with Beijing backed candidate

Pro-democracy groups have expressed their dismay at the selection of Beijing’s candidate Carrie Lam. She talks the talk of unity and solidarity, but her walk bears more resemblance to strong-arm tactics and prosecution.

By Oliver Ward

The Beijing-backed candidate, Carrie Lam, swept to victory in the deeply rigged and undemocratic chief executive elections to become the first female leader of Hong Kong.  She took 777 votes out of a possible 1,200. Only the election committee was eligible to vote, the bulk of which is dominated by pro-Beijing members.

The election took place without a shred of democratic integrity

The election committee is mainly comprised of business, professional or special interest groups. Only 70 of the committee members are part of the Legislative council and only half of these are democratically elected. Groups with political leanings towards Beijing make up a disproportionately large sector of the committee.

Lam achieved the victory despite being consistently outpolled by John Tsang, the popular former finance chief. Political Scientist, Ma Ngok, said, “She has been elected pretty much solely on the support of Beijing.” adding that “She might have a lot of debts she has to repay to her supporters in Beijing.”

Lam ticked all the boxes for Beijing. She has unwavering loyalty to the Chinese government and could effectively implement Beijing’s orders in Hong Kong. She is more reliable at maintaining political stability and coming down tough on pro-independence movements. If Tsang had become Chief Executive, there would have had to be a level of compromise and cooperation.

Joshua Wong, one of the student leaders who led the 2014 pro-democracy protests, also lamented the election procedure. “This is a selection, not an election.” he said, “Carrie Lam will be a nightmare for us.”

There are already indications that democracy is not on her list of priorities

Lam has expressed her wishes to “unite society” and “bridge the divide”. She spreads a message of unity and goodwill but her actions have already shown this to be nothing more than empty words.

The day after her election, nine organisers of the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 were told they will face charges. When questioned on the matter, Lam replied that she couldn’t intervene with the process as the prosecutions were being carried out by her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying’s administration.

Whether her hands were tied or not, the message is loud and clear. She wants unity and a fixed society, but her unwillingness to confront Beijing or interfere over democratic matters already shows a message of business as usual in Hong Kong. One of the protest leaders charged, sociology professor Chan Kin-man said, “She wanted to mend the society, but the message we got today was prosecution.”

She cites other issues as being more pressing than bringing democracy to Hong Kong

“I too want more democracy in Hong Kong. But Hong Kong is facing a lot of problems. Why don’t we start with the easier subjects first?” These words do not sound like the voice of a candidate prepared to fight to bring democracy to the region. In January, she cited problems like housing costs and the lack of upward mobility as issues she wanted to address on election.

Given the scale of the mass protests organised by the pro-democracy movement, it is hard to imagine an issue more pressing than the basic right of universal suffrage. Under the “one country, two systems” compromise, Beijing promised a “high degree of autonomy” to Hong Kong. This included the pledge to allow Hong Kong to select its own leader in 2017. Many have seen these elections as a crossroads. It was a chance for Beijing to make concessions by granting the selection of John Tsang, who commanded the support of half the adult population of Hong Kong.

Martin Lee, a pro-democracy voice, complained, “We have been waiting for twenty years now, and the electoral law is still not fair or democratic.” Given her pro-Beijing stance and her unwillingness to put the democratic discussion on the table, democratic groups are likely to have to wait a little longer before their dream can be realised.

It will be left to the people to fight for democracy

The results of the election have failed to deliver a hero for the pro-democracy movements. It will remain up to the people to bring democracy to Hong Kong. However, the election has shown that the people are more willing than ever to fight.

John Tsang’s campaign turned a rigged selection process into a passionate and polarising debate across the country. The elections have captured the interest of the population despite not being able to vote or influence the outcome. He was successfully able to portray himself as an alternative to mainstream politics and instil a sense of distrust of the established government. His defeat to Lam serves to highlight the extent of Beijing’s influence over Hong Kong and emphasise the strong-arm tactics used.

The election served to demonstrate that democracy cannot be brought to Hong Kong from within the current political system, run by Beijing. Tsang may have lost the election, but the people can create their own democratic heroes. The real champions of democracy will emerge from the embers of these elections. They will not be politicians or career bureaucrats, but people in the streets. Hong Kong cannot rely on rapid top down change. The slow, gradual, hard-fought concessions, won by grassroots movements were what brought democracy and independence to the Indians under Gandhi, equality to the black community in the United States, and will be what brings democracy to Hong Kong.