Hong Kong: Mass protests greet new leader
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||2 July 2012|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, Hong Kong: Mass protests greet new leader, 2 July 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ff59da5c.html [accessed 1 June 2016]|
Hong Kong's new chief executive says he will 'humbly listen' to the people after the biggest demonstrations in years.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents demonstrate on the 15th anniversary of the city's return to Beijing's rule, July 1, 2012. AFP
Hong Kong's incoming leader Leung Chun-ying vowed on Monday to listen to the city's citizens after thousands of people took to the streets at the weekend in protest at the official start of his tenure.
Hours after Leung was sworn in at a ceremony in front of Chinese president Hu Jintao, crowds poured down the main thoroughfares of Hong Kong's central business district in the biggest demonstrations in eight years.
Organizers said 400,000 people turned out, while police, whose estimates are typically far lower than participants', said 63,000 took part. Both were the highest figures since 2004.
The annual July 1 demonstrations have become a pressure valve for political and social discontent in a political system which is strongly weighted in Beijing's favor.
Leung said in reaction to the protests, "My government and I will seriously and humbly listen to the people's demands, no matter through what means or how many people were there."
"We hope we can fight together with the people to fulfill the people's demands," he told reporters.
Even before his term began, Leung, a Beijing loyalist, had already attracted protests drawing thousands of people decrying Chinese interference in the March election.
Anti-Beijing sentiment has peaked since Leung's confirmation as the new chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government, which came into being following the July 1, 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule.
Leung won the vote by 689 out of a total of nearly 1,200 ballots cast by an election committee hand-picked by Beijing. His count exceeded the minimum number of votes by the smallest margin yet, compared with his two predecessors.
His victory came after vigorous behind-the-scenes canvassing by Chinese officials following a series of scandals linked to his chief rival and former civil service chief Henry Tang, according to sources close to the electoral committee.
His victory was announced in late March, amid raucous shouts of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" from protesters.
Leung has pledged to tackle public grievances, including a widening gap between the rich and poor, and soaring property costs which have made home ownership an impossible dream for many residents, especially younger people.
Beijing has promised a direct election for the chief executive post in 2017 and for the legislature by 2020.
One protester surnamed Chow said local people were angry at the widening of the gap between rich and poor during the tenure of Leung's predecessor, Donald Tsang.
"The links between government and business have become clearer and clearer, and there has been a reversal of democratization during Tsang's time in office," Chow said.
"The interference of the central government liaison office in Hong Kong's internal politics has also become more and more obvious," he said. "If we don't come out [onto the streets], things are just going to get worse and worse."
A protester surnamed Kwok said he had taken his two young daughters on the march after not participating in a July 1 protest for five years.
"There were a lot of factors," he said. "Especially the Li Wangyang incident and the promises made by the new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying."
Thousands of people have signed an online petition, joining growing calls for a government probe into the death of veteran 1989 pro-democracy activist Li Wangyang after official claims that he killed himself while in police custody were disputed by activists and a Hong Kong official.
The petition, which was initiated by veteran journalist and blogger Wen Yunchao and a number of Hong Kong-based pro-democracy groups, is indicative of a growing mood of public outrage and suspicion surrounding Li's death.
Monday's newspapers in Hong Kong carried full-page pictures of a vast sea of faces on Sunday's march during the sweltering summer heat.
The headline in the Chinese-language Apple Daily News, which is known for its anti-Beijing views, read, "Leung Chun-ying becomes a lame duck."
Just a week before his inauguration, Leung was forced to apologize over illegal improvements at his luxury home and faced criticism from an inquiry into a conflict-of-interest row involving a government project a decade ago.
A poll released by the University of Hong Kong last week showed Leung's popularity rating falling to 51.5, down 4.2 points from a month ago, with nearly 40 percent of people saying they did not trust the government.
Pan-democratic legislator Frederick Fung said people were angry at the lack of participation available to them in their own government.
"Leung Chun-ying wasn't directly elected, but chosen by a small circle of people that doesn't represent the [Hong Kong] people," he said. "He has the backing of property tycoons behind him, so I don't believe there will be any improvement in the situation."
"During the campaign, he said that his opponent Henry Tang had carried out illegal construction, and then later it was discovered that he had illegal building work done too."
"Both of them were lying," Fung said.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.