Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has urged Hongkongers be more like sheep in his Lunar New Year message, where he described the past year as rife with conflicts. “The 12 Chinese zodiac animals represent 12 character types. Sheep are widely seen to be mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups,” Leung said in his holiday video greeting, an English translation of which was posted on the government's website. “Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong. Our society was rife with differences and conflicts," it stated. “In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep’s character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong’s future,” he said. The Chinese zodiac characterises people born under the year of the sheep (otherwise known as the year of the goat) as loyal, docile and compassionate. But dictionary definitions also say “sheep” is used with reference to “people who are too easily influenced or led”. WATCH: CY Leung's Lunar New Year message Responding to the speech, Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said: “I don’t think [CY Leung] is saying we should follow like sheep. I think he refers to the virtues of sheep. “[But] then he himself is doing exactly the opposite to provoke so much confrontation and he is tearing the society apart. It’s very contradictory and duplicitous,” she told the Post . Leung’s administration was rocked by a year of turmoil, marked by the Occupy Central pro-democracy protests which crippled parts of the city for three months and drawn-out political disputes over election reforms. The Hong Kong government has faced mounting pressure over the issue of universal suffrage after Beijing handed down a restrictive framework for the chief executive election in 2017. Leung himself was criticised after he was quoted last October saying that free elections are unacceptable because that would give the poorer half of the population a voice in politics. Ma Ngok, a Chinese University political scientist, said of Leung's Lunar New Year comments that "he was referring to the Occupy movement". "But I think the use of lamb, goat or sheep analogy is not smart because in a lot of people's minds the lamb is not a smart animal and he is preaching that you should follow and obey," Ma said. "He seems like he wants the people to blindly follow what he says, like sheep following the shepherd. And CY Leung preaching more peace is kind of ironic because many people see him as the guy causing a lot of conflicts in Hong Kong," he told the Post . The Hong Kong leader and his wife, Regina Leung Tong Ching-yee, were also filmed smiling with a group of children on the lawn of the Government House in the video greeting. Shortly before the video's release and even before netizens had a chance to comment, Leung wrote a blog post explaining that the children were not paid actors. The children had “language impairments” and were invited to visit the official residence, he said. Leung ended his message with a wish for everyone to have “good health, great happiness and a harmonious family life”.