Hong Kong voters will choose a new legislature in two days, as discontent at China’s influence fuels protests against an influx of mainland citizens and changes to the education curriculum.
The election may boost so-called pro-democracy parties that don’t back Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said Michael DeGolyer, a professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University, whose Hong Kong Transition Project has tracked changes in the city since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Dissatisfaction at the way the government deals with China has risen to the highest level in eight years, according to a survey by the project.
Strengthened opposition from lawmakers would complicate Leung’s task as he seeks to balance Hong Kong’s economic reliance on China with the demands of local residents. Leung, battling record-low poll ratings, scrapped his trip to this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and yesterday announced plans for locals-only home sales after investment from mainland Chinese helped drive a surge in property prices.
“The China effect is an inevitable and global phenomenon,” said Raymond Yeung, senior economist for Greater China at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. “Economic integration with China is unavoidable. Yet, it is essential for Hong Kong to preserve its international status and uniqueness.”
Voters will choose lawmakers in the expanded 70-member Legislative Council on Sept. 9. Pro-democracy parties, led by the Democratic Party and Civic Party, seek to retain or expand their one-third presence on the council, which gives them the power to veto bills that require a two-thirds majority.
“He has to work with these folks, and it’s going to be extremely difficult to do so,” DeGolyer said.
Home prices have soared by about 88 percent since the start of 2009, driven by record low-interest rates and purchases by mainland buyers. Chinese mothers taking up hospital beds, and an influx of tourists have also spurred dissatisfaction among Hong Kong residents.
Students have camped out at government headquarters for more than a week demanding it drop plans for national education classes that they said paint an overly favorable picture of Communist Party rule in China.
A plan by the Chinese government, to take effect this month, to ease visa procedures for mainland visitors to Hong Kong has faced criticism from James Tien, head of the tourism board, on concerns the city won’t be able to handle the influx.
Leung yesterday announced plans for the sale of two land sites on which homes will be built only for locals. He followed up on that today by saying the city will delay the loosening of visa approval for some tourists coming from the neighboring Chinese Shenzhen city. The chief executive announced a measure to stop Chinese mothers from giving birth in the city earlier in the year.
Leung is the last chief executive to be chosen by a 1,193 member-committee comprising of billionaires, lawmakers and representatives from industry groups.
He was backed by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, also known as the DAB, which with 10 seats is the largest party in the Legislative Council. He also has support from the The Federation of Trade Unions, which has four. Other political parties in the council include the Liberal Party and Economic Synergy, which are advocates for businesses.
Pro-democracy parties have backed the students’ call to stop the national education classes, while the DAB supported the introduction of the curriculum.
The turnout may surpass the previous election in 2008 with 10 more seats been introduced, according to a survey of 13,457 people by the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme conducted from Aug. 1 to Sept. 3.