Pro-establishment politicians in Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet voiced their unhappiness to her on Tuesday that they had suffered a crushing defeat at the district council polls because they were the punching bags for voters unhappy with the government’s handling of the political unrest.
Their lament came as the city’s chief executive earlier told media that Beijing had not held her accountable for the losses suffered by her allies, as she sought to allay simmering discontent by revealing that the setting up of an independent review committee to look into the underlying causes of the anti-government protests was under way.
Over the weekend, the pro-establishment camp lost heavily in the elections, ceding control of 17 out of 18 district councils. The pro-democracy bloc netted 392 out of 452 seats, a record victory, while pro-Beijing politicians won just 60 seats.
A source close to the government added that during a meeting on Tuesday of the Executive Council – Lam’s cabinet comprising advisers and officials – members from several parties said voters registered their anger with the government by making the pro-establishment side pay the price at the polls.
“They said many voters vented their anger against pro-government parties through ballot boxes, and their parties bore the brunt for their support for the government,” the source said, adding that some members with party backgrounds also lamented that the elections were not conducted in a fair manner because of alleged intimidation from protesters.
Another veteran politician said several key figures within the pro-establishment camp had told the government that they had to take the flak from voters because of their support for the now-withdrawn extradition bill. “They understand that many voters cast ballots to punish them,” the source said.
They understand that many voters cast ballots to punish them
Speaking to the press before the weekly Exco meeting, Lam was asked to what extent she was responsible for the landslide defeat of the camp, and whether Beijing had held her accountable.
“This election has become an opportunity for people to express their dissatisfaction against the government. Of course it has certain impact on the pro-establishment candidates,” she said, conceding that some voters were unhappy with the deficiencies in governance, including the time taken to deal with the current unstable environment.
But Lam said she had not heard of any “instruction” from Beijing that she had to be held accountable for the results, before she moved on to describe how election day had been peaceful.
“Everyone values the results for sure, but the process is also important,” she said. “If we held an election that contravened the principle of rule of law and fairness, that would have caused much more harm to Hong Kong.”
Asked if she would address the protesters’ five demands, including the setting up of a commission of inquiry to look into the excessive use of force by police, Lam said she had already touched on the subject.
“We have stressed that no one should resort to violence for any demand, as violence cannot solve anything,” she said. “From the polling results, we can also see many voters hoping to demonstrate their dissatisfaction against violence with their votes.”
We can also see many voters hoping to demonstrate their dissatisfaction against violence with their votes
Carrie Lam, chief executive
Of the 2.94 million people who voted on Sunday, 41 per cent backed pro-establishment candidates.
Lam again pointed to the official withdrawal of the extradition bill in September, and said she had clearly explained the government’s stance on the other demands put forward by demonstrators.
“The next step is really to engage the people, and we have started a public dialogue with the community,” she said. “But unfortunately, with the unstable environment and the chaotic situation, I cannot do more of that sort of engagement. I hope the environment will allow me to do it now.”
Lam said the government was in the process of setting up an independent review committee to look at the underlying causes of the anti-government protests, using how Britain responded to the London riots in 2011 as a point of reference.
In September, Lam said she would invite community leaders, professionals and academics to examine society’s deep-seated problems, and to advise the government on finding solutions.
It was the first time Lam confirmed the work would be done under a format of a committee, but not a “working group” as other officials had earlier described.
After her latest remarks stirred debate if the committee was a new move to soothe public anger after elections, Lam later clarified in a Facebook post that the idea was not something new.
“The review will be done on the facts, rather than targeting people,” she wrote, adding that the government was inviting members and that she hoped the committee could be launched soon.
Pan-democrats were unimpressed by her response to the election results and accused Lam of dodging responsibility, insisting she had to resign.
“She’s just being shameless to say Beijing has not held her accountable,” lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, whose Democratic Party won 91 seats, said. “She should well appreciate the spirit of accountability. Even ordinary workers would choose to resign given all the wrongs committed.”
Wan’s party colleague Lam Cheuk-ting, who was re-elected in his constituency in the North district, said the party might table a motion supporting protesters’ five demands in the district council’s first meeting in January.
“We will also push for a police enforcement committee in all districts, to monitor officers and deter alleged arbitrary arrests at the community level,” Lam Cheuk-ting added.
More from South China Morning Post:
- All eyes on Carrie Lam: decisive Hong Kong polls outcome demands ‘drastic response, not piecemeal fence-mending’
- Pro-Beijing camp’s landslide loss in district council elections ‘a chance for reflection’ on Hong Kong
- Hong Kong election takeaways: has pan-democrat domination made them kingmakers in race to succeed Carrie Lam as chief executive?