November 26, 2019 16:43:09
Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam says the city’s overwhelming vote for pro-democracy candidates reveals “deficiencies in government”, but has refused to grant any more concessions to anti-Government protesters.
- Carrie Lam acknowledged the district council vote had a “political dimension”
- The pro-democracy bloc took 90 per cent of seats and 17 out of 18 councils
- Beijing has reportedly set up a crisis command centre for Hong Kong over the border
Nearly 3 million voters cast their ballot in a record turnout that gave the pro-democracy bloc a landslide victory with 90 per cent of seats and control of 17 out of 18 district councils.
While Hong Kong’s district councils control some spending and decide issues such as recycling and public health, Ms Lam acknowledged in a weekly press address that 2019’s elections had a “more political dimension”.
The Chinese-ruled city has been embroiled in five months of at times violent protests which were triggered after Ms Lam tried to pass a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China.
While the bill was initially suspended, then formally withdrawn, the city’s anti-Government protests have snowballed into a broader fight about the direction of the semi-autonomous territory under Beijing’s rule.
That move answered one of five formal demands protesters made of the Government, which also included: granting Hongkongers universal suffrage; the release of all imprisoned protesters; the de-classification of a June protest as a “riot”; and the formation of an independent commission of inquiry into police behaviour.
So far, Ms Lam has not acquiesced to the four remaining demands.
Presently, Hong Kong’s leader is not directly elected, but is instead appointed by a 1,200-member election committee which draws together representatives from various parts of Hong Kong society, its Legislative and District Councils, and representatives of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Monday’s election results place pro-democracy candidates in the running to gain 117 seats on the chief executive election committee.
Ms Lam, whose rule has been supported by Chinese President Xi Jinping, told reporters that Beijing did not hold her accountable for the pro-establishment candidates.
However, some pro-establishment figures have pointed fingers at Lam for their loss, while the pro-democracy camp has asked her to step down.
Lam refuses to give ground to protesters’ demands
When asked if the election result could prompt the Hong Kong Government to respond to the protesters’ formal demands, Ms Lam refused to budge, and pointed to her previous efforts to begin a “public dialogue”.
“The next step to go forward is really, as you have put it, to engage the people, and we have started public dialogue with the community,” she said.
“But unfortunately, with the unstable environment and a chaotic situation, I could not do more on that sort of engagement. I hope that the environment will allow me to do it now.”
She said the Government hopes to take advantage of the current lull in violence to implement measures listed then, including accelerating public dialogue and setting up an independent review committee to identify deep-seated societal issues to find a way out.
She added that the review committee would look at the British Government’s responses to London’s 2011 Tottenham riots to inform the Hong Kong Government’s understanding of the city’s present social unrest.
“What we need to do now is [open] community dialogue and invite social leaders to help us analyse the causes of the disturbances and Hong Kong’s deep-seated social problems, and to come up with solutions,” Ms Lam said.
Chinese leadership opens crisis centre in Shenzen
China’s leadership, meanwhile, has set up a crisis command centre on the mainland side of the border and is considering replacing its official liaison to the restive semi-autonomous city, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials interviewed by Reuters spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.
In recent months, top Chinese leaders have been managing their response from a villa on the outskirts of Shenzhen, which senior Chinese officials previously stayed at the during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy “Occupy Central” protests in 2014.
Ordinarily, communications between Beijing and Hong Kong are conducted through a Chinese Government body located in the semi-autonomous territory: the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong.
The Liaison Office is housed in a Hong Kong skyscraper stacked with surveillance cameras, ringed by steel barricades and topped by a reinforced glass globe. It has previously been vandalised by anti-Government protesters.
But, in a sign of dissatisfaction with the Liaison Office’s handling of the crisis, Beijing is considering potential replacements for the office’s director, Wang Zhimin, two people familiar with the situation said.
Mr Wang is the most senior mainland political official stationed in Hong Kong.
The office has attracted criticism in Hong Kong and China for misjudging the city’s political crisis.
“The Liaison Office has been mingling with the rich people and mainland elites in the city and isolated itself from the people,” a Chinese official said.
“This needs to be changed.”
The Liaison Office may face increased pressure following the results of Monday’s vote.
“The Hong Kong situation has increasingly made Beijing authorities uncomfortable,” said Sonny Lo, a veteran Hong Kong political commentator.
Their desire for security and discretion, he said, is “the reason they select Shenzhen rather than Hong Kong as a kind of parallel headquarters in dealing with the Hong Kong crisis.”
The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the Liaison Office in Hong Kong did not reply to faxed requests for comment.
The office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam also declined to comment.
November 26, 2019 16:00:55