Hong Kong elects Beijing-backed leader amid protests

Neil Connor
Carrie Lam waves after her victory - EPA

Beijing’s preferred candidate was elected as Hong Kong’s leader on Sunday, a result likely to trigger more political conflict in a city where many feel freedoms are being eroded.

Carrie Lam defeated people's favourite John Tsang and retired High Court Judge Woo Kwok-hing in the contest, which is decided by a pro-Beijing committee.

The poll was the first to be held since mass protests calling for greater freedoms brought Hong Kong to a standstill in 2014, and it has again exposed bitter divisions over what many see as Beijing’s tightening grip on the city.

Ms Lam immediately vowed to heal those rifts after her victory.

"Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness and has accumulated a lot of frustrations,” she said.

“My priority will be to heal the divide.”

Ms Lam will become the city’s first female chief executive after she received 777 out of 1,163 votes cast by an election committee made up of political, business and trade elites who commonly vote in accordance with the wishes of Beijing.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday evening and as the result was announced on Sunday, holding placards saying ‘sham election’ and shouting slogans calling for more democracy.

Democracy activist Joshua Wong leads a protest in Hong Kong as the election is held on Sunday Credit: Reuters

A statement released by Demosisto, a political party formed by Joshua Wong and other student activists who helped lead the 2014 ‘Umbrella Protests’, said: “This result is a nightmare (for) Hong Kongers.

“But it is our hope that those who have fought, and continue to fight for fair political representation in Hong Kong will not lose momentum.”

The group vowed to launch a “large civil disobedience protest” when Ms Lam is sworn in on the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British colonial rule on July 1st. Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, will likely attend the event.

Ahead of Ms Lam’s victory, concerns were raised over China’s meddling in the election process, with committee members saying they have been approached by Beijing to vote for her.

At least two lawmakers were also reported to have dropped out of the race after they were advised not to stand as they might dilute the pro-establishment vote.

Ms Lam, aged 59, served as the city’s number two politician under outgoing leader Chun-ying Leung, who was widely seen as a Beijing puppet.

Observers believe she is likely to continue the unpopular policies of her former boss, which included taking a hardline against the democratic movement.

Carrie Lam is congratulated after her victory Credit: Reuters

During Mr Leung’s five years as chief executive a series of issues heightened concern that Hong Kong’s legal autonomy from China was being eroded. These freedoms are supposedly guaranteed under the ‘one country, two systems’ rule that was drawn up before the 1997 handover.

In 2015, five local booksellers who published titles which criticised Beijing’s leaders disappeared. They since emerged in detention in the Chinese mainland.

And last year, two pro-independence lawmakers were disqualified from taking their seats after they altered their oaths and added anti-China insults and slogans.

Sixtus 'Baggio' Leung, who was one of those to be barred from the chamber, criticised the methods used to elect Ms Lam to Hong Kong’s top job.

“This is not a democratic process. For me the candidates were not even trying to get the support of the committee members,” he told The Telegraph.

“What they have tried to do is to get the Beijing government’s support, and that is not self-governance, this is just direct control from the Beijing government.”

However, Starry Lee, the leader of the city's biggest pro-establishment political party, said Hong Kong's citizens should understand that Beijing has "full sovereignty over Hong Kong issues.”

"For this election, every voter understands they have to be responsible with their vote," the leader of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) told The Telegraph.

"We use a secret ballot to vote, and every voter chooses the one who they believe can serve Hong Kong and lead Hong Kong in the next five years."

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