Universal suffrage is an issue that cannot be ignored, Regina Ip on Carrie Lam’s victory

She says the issue of empowering more people to choose their leader will not go away

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 5:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 11:25pm

As widely predicted, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, former chief secretary, was elected the fifth-term chief executive and the first woman to lead Hong Kong with 777 votes.

While her campaign supporters will sigh a deep breath of relief at her ability to beat her chief rival, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, by a comfortable margin, Mrs Lam’s real challenge is yet to come.

The atmosphere was more tense both inside and outside the polling station compared to the election five years ago. That contest between former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and current chief executive Leung Chun-ying – nicknamed a fight between a “wolf” and a “pig” – was scandal-laden but amounted to no more than a clash between two pro-establishment personalities.

‘The work of uniting society begins now’: Carrie Lam pledges to heal Hong Kong’s divide

This time, the pan-democratic camp’s hold on the votes of the 1,200-strong election committee had significantly expanded. Instead of fielding a candidate from the pan-democratic camp with a slim chance of winning the business vote, the camp decided to throw its weight behind Tsang and turned him into its proxy.

Shortly after Lam and Tsang kicked off their campaigns, the contest morphed into a battle between the pan-democratic camp and pro-establishment forces, mirroring the deep and long-standing political fault lines in our society.

The number fell short of the convincing majority Lam would need to show the public that she had been able to win support across the two opposing political camps

Entering the race with 590 nominations, Lam’s 777 votes show that she was not only able to garner the remaining roughly 120 votes from the pro-establishment camp (votes from the Federation of Trade Unions, district councillors in urban areas and the Chinese Enterprises Association), but also over 70 from various business sectors, including many who were previously pledged to Tsang.

But the number fell short of the convincing majority Lam would need to show the public that she had been able to win support across the two opposing political camps.

By comparison, the majority of Tsang’s votes came from the pan-democratic camp, who chanted slogans of protest both inside and outside the polling station. Outside the station, battle lines were clearly drawn between young and restless protesters crying out loud for “genuine universal suffrage”, and squads of older demonstrators representing various clansmen associations with strong links to mainland China, a harbinger of more unrest to come.

Lam played down the need to resume discussions on constitutional reform in her policy manifesto. Past debate had been too divisive and the chances of reaching a consensus too low, she explained.

But the reality is that no more than 1,200 privileged members of our society have been empowered to vote. And they have had to exercise their power amid a chorus of exhortations from sources close to Beijing about who is and who is not acceptable.

Large numbers outside the privileged minority are seething with passion and anger for universal suffrage. The issue of empowering more Hong Kong people to have a genuine right to choose their leader will simply not go away.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a lawmaker and chairwoman of the New People’s Party