Hundreds of pro-democracy supporters protested on Saturday against Hong Kong’s small-circle leadership race, which is scheduled for Sunday morning.

They called for full democracy and accused the Chinese government of interfering in the election. It is rumoured that candidate Carrie Lam has Beijing’s backing for the top job. She is tipped to win the election, when a committee of 1,194 people – around 0.03 per cent of the population – choose the city’s next leader.

Protesters held placards saying “No meddling [in the election].” Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng..

The Civil Human Rights Front, who organised the rally, did not apply for a letter of no objection from police. Before the protest began, police officers held a warning flag and told demonstrators that they might be prosecuted for joining an “unauthorised” protest.

Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The warning provoked the crowd, which shouted at the police that they had the right to protest. The rally was eventually allowed to proceed.

Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Pro-democracy camp divided

Traditionally, the pro-democracy camp voices opposition to the chief executive electoral system. For years, it has been advocating universal suffrage which would allow Hongkongers to pick the city’s leader and lawmakers.

But on Sunday, around 300 pro-democracy figures with a vote in the election have stated that they would be voting for Lam’s rival John Tsang, who leads in public opinion polls.

John Tsang. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Their decision to back a pro-establishment figure has led to divisions within the pro-democracy camp. Only a minority of politicians – such as lawmakers Nathan Law, Eddie Chu and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung – have said they will be casting a protest vote.

“Small-circle elections are problematic because there will always be pre-chosen candidates,” Leung said.

Leung Kwok-hung. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

District Councilor Au Nok-hin, an organiser of Saturday’s protest, said he respected the “strategic” decisions of those who will be voting for Tsang. But he said he hoped the rally would remind the pro-democracy camp of its “original goal”: to reject all small-circle elections.

Au Nok-hin (centre). Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

“It was difficult to settle on a theme for today’s march [because] rallygoers have different ideals,” Au told the crowd during the rally.

“But there is no need to criticise people with different opinions. It is important to not be fighting over ideologies. If we do not unite, we will be failing the legacy left behind by the Umbrella Movement.”

Police filming protesters from a rooftop. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The Umbrella Movement erupted in 2014 when pro-democracy supporters occupied major thoroughfares in protest of Beijing’s decision to bar open elections in the semi-autonomous city. It was also known for several police-protester clashes, which left many people injured.

A protester held a yellow umbrella – a symbol of the Occupy protests. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

On Friday, John Tsang held a rally near Lung Wo Road, where clashes took place during the 79-day protests. Tsang told the crowd that “it was time to give a new meaning to Lung Wo Road” with his campaign rally.

Standoff on Lung Wo Road. File Photo: HKFP.

His comment drew criticism from the pro-democracy camp. Hong Kong Federation of Social Work Students’ Korver Li Yu-lau, who took part in the Occupy protests, told HKFP that he found Tsang “pretentious.”

“He pretends to understand our feelings and demands,” he said. “I think the pro-democracy electors should cast a protest vote, because otherwise they will effectively legitimise the small-circle electoral system.”

A protester. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Li’s group calls for full democracy. A member held a placard saying “I am a social work student, and I want genuine universal suffrage.”

A social work student. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Lawmaker Nathan Law of the Demosisto party also disagreed with Tsang’s remarks. “Tsang cannot rewrite the meaning of Lung Wo Road to those who witnessed police violence during Occupy,” he told HKFP.

In the light of popular support for Tsang – including many pro-democracy supporters – Law said more work is needed to reunite the camp after the election. “Communication is very important. I understand that there are divisions, but it is not impossible to unite us again.”

Nathan Law. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Protesters marched from Causeway Bay to a public square near the Revenue Tower in Wan Chai. They drew attention as they marched through busy roads.

Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Though most onlookers remained silent as they watched the crowd, a few spoke up against them. A man shouted “I support Carrie Lam” as he walked by. A schoolboy said loudly: “Are these people crazy? Another protest?”

Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The Civil Human Rights Front will stage another protest at 9:30am on Sunday, while the election begins at 9am. They will march from Lugard Road in Wan Chai to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the election takes place.

Ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing is also in the running.


Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.