Protests show call for Hong Kong unity is a distant dream
Pro-democracy groups dominated five years ago – now a new breed of activist has taken centre stage
While unity had been a key word during the campaigns of all three chief executive candidates, protests as divisive as ever outside the voting station suggest achieving it will be harder said than done.
The number of pro-democracy protesters was down significantly on Sunday – and they resorted to less radical action – compared with the 2,000 who showed up at the last chief executive election in 2012 and prompted police to use pepper spray.
But this election saw the rise of a whole new breed of protesters. About 1,200 pro-Beijing supporters, by the Post’s estimation, many clad in red, who drowned out their opponents while voicing support for the government.
As the votes were cast and counted in the Convention and Exhibition Centre’s voting station in Wan Chai, they gathered in the drizzle outside at Revenue Tower and the Shun On Centre, designated protest zones, to wave national flags, chant slogans and sing in praise of the motherland.
When they were not enjoying a band invited to perform in matching red, they mingled and chatted in Putonghua and various dialects, displaying banners bearing the names of their home cities, such as Guangzhou, Xiamen and Shanwei.
Some protesters the Post spoke to boasted of caring little for the candidates.
“I support whoever Beijing names. We support Beijing,” a Ms Lau, from I Care Action, one of the groups, said.
Around 200 members from the United Zhejiang Residents Association held up placards reading “Wise Election Committee members pick a good chief executive”.
Vice-chairman Ivan Tsim Hung-leung said the group held around 10 votes on the Election Committee. Asked which candidate the group supported, he replied: “We all know it from our hearts.”
Tsim said the group had applied for all the necessary permits to hold the public assembly. “But as you can see, we are constantly heckled [by democracy activists]. We are here to express our wish for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Hong Kong.”
It was a mix of all ages, though many had passed their middle age. They also voiced support for more general matters, such as, “one country, two systems”, and for police officers to carry out their duty, rather than specific concerns of the election.
The three candidates, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing, had repeatedly pledged while campaigning to mend the increasingly divided Hong Kong that resulted from the Occupy Protest movement for greater democracy in 2014.
For those protesting at the “small-circle” ballot, with the chief executive chosen by a 1,194-member Election Committee, their presence struck a contrast with five years ago, when pro-democracy supporters had tried to storm the election venue and were driven back with batons and pepper spray.
There was a heavy police presence but only around 200 people turned up for a march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, which did not apply for police approval.
The march was led by a number of pan-democratic lawmakers, de-facto members of the Election Committee empowered to select Hong Kong’s next leader. The lawmakers, Leung Kwok-hung, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Lau Siu-lai, went on to cast blank votes.
Some protesters mustered their forces and made a charge towards the front entrance of the voting station, but they were stopped by police officers who formed a human chain.
The commotion lasted about 10 minutes and the situation was contained without the use of force or arrests.
One woman protester holding a yellow umbrella, symbol of the Occupy movement, said: “We are not like those who sing the praises of the Communist Party and the [Hong Kong] government – they are all paid to show up. I never received a dime!”
A group of protesters from People Power proceeded to Beijing’s liaison office, where they threw toilet paper over the fence – a reference to a campaign gaffe by Lam when she was unable to buy toilet paper from a convenience store.
Chung Kim-wah, a political scientist at Polytechnic University, said the present government had been engaging pro-establishment groups over the past five years, giving rise to the emergence of the groups that countered the pro-democracy opposition.
Last year the founder of anti-Occupy group Silent Majority, Robert Chow Yung, was also blessed with am unexpected two-hour meeting with Zhang Dejiang, chairman of National People’s Congress, in Beijing.
Chung said: “To unite [society] is not going to be a thing that happens overnight. How Carrie Lam deals with it is now a problem she has to ponder.”