Hong Kong's New Leader: Not So Popular

Hong Kong's new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, was sworn in on Sunday. He was later welcomed by hundreds of thousands of protestors who were angry at -- among other things -- him.

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Hong Kong's new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, was sworn in on Sunday. He was later welcomed by hundreds of thousands of protestors who were angry at -- among other things, like the region's worst wealth gap since 1971, its lack of a (full) democracy, and its skyrocketing housing prices -- him.

According to Reuters:

Leung, 57, is a self-made surveyor, former senior Hong Kong government adviser and known as a suave, and at times ruthless, political operator with close ties to China's Communist Party...

...During a campaign debate, Leung was accused of proposing the use of riot police and teargas to quell a half-million strong protest in 2003 over proposed anti-subversion laws -- a governance crisis that rattled Beijing and ultimately forced then-leader Tung Chee-hwa from office mid-term.

"The situation will be very tough. Many people do not like his top-down management style and his deviation from the core values of Hong Kong," said Dixon Sing, a political scientist. "He has been extremely politically conservative and hardline."

Hong Kong residents did not elect Leung. They cannot vote for top government positions. Instead, a 1,200-person election committee, made up of business leaders and others who represent special interests, selected the chief executive. Most of the election committee is loyal to Beijing. Many of the seven million people in Hong Kong argue that this political system gives the city's billionaire tycoons too much political influence.

Hong Kong, which was a British colony until 1997, is semiautonomous from Beijing. But leaders in Beijing have resisted public pressure for full democracy in the city, much to the chagrin of pro-democracy protestors, who swarmed the streets for an annual march following Leung's election. They marched for more than than four hours in what amounted to one of the largest political protests anywhere in China in the past decade, since protests are banned on the mainland.

According to The New York Times:

Surging down broad avenues between high-rises in a central shopping district, the protesters marched toward two government office complexes carrying a variety of banners. A wide range of causes were represented, including greater democracy in Hong Kong and calls for better state pensions and day care. 

But the most common theme was derision toward Hong Kong’s new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying. He was widely portrayed as a wolf because democracy activists contend that he is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” whose sympathies for the Chinese Communist Party may lead him to roll back some of the city’s cherished civil liberties — although Mr. Leung has denied that.

Leung's inauguration (the address from which you can read at China Daily) and the protest also marked the 15-year anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule.

According to Reuters, Leung, a "high-flying member of Hong Kong's elite" who "forged a business career in property," is already "an enigmatic figure" who many in Hong Kong find suspicious.

...Leung became ensnared two weeks before taking office in a seemingly minor but snowballing scandal over six illegal constructions in his HK$500 million ($64 million) hilltop villa.

Leung's popularity ratings have since fallen, while small groups of protesters draped black banners over his front gate, denouncing him as a liar and calling for his resignation.

The New York Times noted that Leung’s real estate fraud was especially harmful to his image because his campaign focused largely on addressing the city's shortage of affordable housing. The shortage has a lot to do with the influence of mainland China on the region.

Wealthy mainland families seeking to diversify their investments and protect them from taxes or politically motivated confiscation have poured huge sums into the Hong Kong real estate market, driving prices to record highs that few Hong Kong citizens can afford. Affluent mainlanders seeking to avoid the “one child” policy and to obtain Hong Kong passports for their offspring have flooded maternity wards at the city’s hospitals in recent years; Mr. Leung has already promised to halt the influx of pregnant mainlanders starting next January by reducing to zero the annual quota for mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong hospitals.

As many as 400, 000 people marched on Sunday, according to an unofficial estimate from organizers that was given to The Times. This turnout, relative to Hong Kong's population of 7 million, along with opinion polls that suggest public sentiment in Hong Kong towards China is at its lowest since 1997, did not shed a positive light on the city's new ruler.

 “We have 5 percent of the population asking [Leung] to step down and focusing on his integrity,” Ivan Choy, a Hong Kong politics analyst at Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The Times. Choy said this would make it harder for Leung to preserve his political legitimacy. To say the least. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.