- The high turnout at Sunday’s largely peaceful march shows protesters remain strong in their demands and the response of the city leader so far has fallen short of expectations
Be it another mass protest or an impeachment attempt by the opposition, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is unlikely to be ousted, at least for now. But, coming after six months of political turmoil, they are fresh reminders of the tough challenges facing the embattled Hong Kong leader. With her annual duty visit to Beijing later this month, all eyes are on what steps she should take to ease the renewed tensions.
Discontent with Lam and the police was reflected in the relatively high turnout for the rally on Sunday. The protest organised by the Civil Human Rights Front was the first authorised by police in months as the government is still struggling to curb social unrest fuelled by the now-withdrawn extradition bill. The organiser said 800,000 people turned up and police put the figure at 183,000, but whatever the numbers, there was a sizeable crowd and the message was clear. Demands for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into alleged police brutality remain strong.
After half a year of unrest, '800,000 marchers' take to Hong Kong streets
The march was largely peaceful, but it was marred by stand-offs and illegal acts, the most serious being arson incidents outside court buildings. Earlier, police seized a pistol and other weapons, which they believe were to be used in the protest. The outcome would have been serious if that was the case. Calls for a citywide strike yesterday may have only caused minor disruptions, but it shows the saga is far from over.
The latest protest followed a failed attempt by pan-democrats to oust Lam. Basic Law Article 73 clearly sets out the steps to be taken to remove a leader in relation to serious breaches of the law or dereliction of duty. Whether the extradition bill fallout warrants action is a matter of debate, but the political reality is that the fate of the chief executive is a matter for Beijing to decide. So far there is no sign of Beijing giving up on Lam.
However, it would be naive of her to expect smooth governance and firm support from the pro-Beijing camp. Those who voted against the motion to remove Lam said they were just worried about the uncertainties a change in leadership would bring, but their attacks on her do not bode well for cooperation in her remaining two and a half-year term. Her allies suffered a crushing defeat in the district council elections last month, and they will be more wary of backing her in the run-up to the Legislative Council polls next September.
The government said it hoped to work with society to stop violence, rebuild social order and find a way out of deep-seated problems. The response so far still falls short of expectations. Having expressed outrage via the ballot box last month, many voted with their feet again on Sunday. A survey by the Hong Kong Public Research Institute showed 82 per cent of people have no confidence in Lam. The pressure for her to come up with political solutions will only grow as her duty visit nears.
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