While the republican primaries and the fraudulent Russian presidential election continue to dominate the airwaves, a smaller, less democratic leadership controversy is brewing in Hong Kong. The “Asian tiger” and special administrative region of China is experiencing an identity crisis in the midst of the chief executive elections; the results could signify how the Chinese government—embroiled in a transfer of power of its own—will handle the prospect of democracy in Hong Kong.
Since the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, Hongkongers have been conflicted about their relationship with China. As a March 5 New York Times story explained, Hong Kong’s worst fear is becoming “just another Chinese city.” Hongkongers are said to describe mainland Chinese tourists as “locusts,” people who visit the city to buy baby formula, luxury goods and real estate at obscene prices—inflation is rampant. Given that tycoons own Hong Kong’s economy and that it is one of the most unequal societies in the world, it is unsurprising that residents resent the thousands of mainland Chinese residents who pour into the city.
Recent controversies include mainland mothers giving birth to their children in Hong Kong (an “anchor baby” situation) and residents not being allowed to take photographs in front of a Dolce & Gabbana store—though mainland Chinese tourists were allowed to snap away—that resulted in thousands of people protesting.
This resentment affects the chief executive “election,” widely believed to be contested between tycoon Henry Tang and former Executive Council covener Leung Chun-ying (hereafter referred to as CY Leung). Rather than having an open election, the candidates required nominations from the 1200-member Election Committee, most of whom are members of the business elite. They will vote for the Chief Executive candidates on March 25.
Though the process of selecting a Chief Executive candidate seems entirely undemocratic, the two candidates have been highly controversial, though Henry Tang has received most public ridicule. Tang is the scion of a powerful Chinese textile-manufacturing company and is widely considered as Beijing’s favorite for the position. He is also known for his numerous extramarital affairs—alleged copies of his love notes were published on Sina Weibo—and his rumored illegitimate children. His Kowloon Tong home was also found to have an illegal 2200-square-foot extension including a Japanese bath, gym, cinema and a wine tasting room.
In a press conference, he placed all blame on his wife, saying marital problems caused him to mishandle the issue. Major local press outlets, including the English-language South China Morning Post, called on Tang to drop out of the race, and half the general public agrees. Hilariously, Tang has described the election as “a war over Hong Kong’s core values.”
CY Leung, a former government official, has encountered several scandals as well—mostly regarding conflicts of interest on large government projects—but has not encountered the ridicule and vitriol that seem to follow Tang. Regardless of popular opinion, it is widely believed that Tang will become the next Chief Executive because of his close connections to Beijing.
Unfortunately, this election has proved less than encouraging for those hoping for democracy in Hong Kong, and ultimately China. Neither of these choices are particularly popular, and the lack of public input in the voting process is frustrating, to say the least. Many hope that their input will matter by the time the next Chief Executive election is scheduled in 2017; however, with politicians and tycoons reluctant to cede power and corruption rampant in even the super-local district council elections, it is unlikely that this will happen anytime soon.