Thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets yesterday to demand the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who they say lost credibility by misleading the public about illegal renovations at his home.
As many as 37,700 protesters gathered, with some carrying signs calling Leung a “liar.” Opposition lawmakers will on Jan. 9 introduce a motion calling for an investigation into Leung’s handling of unauthorized construction on his property. About 8,500 people rallied to support the chief executive.
Yesterday’s protest increases pressure on Leung, whose popularity is lower than that of his two predecessors in their first six months in office. The chief executive, who has the backing of China’s Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, also faces disquiet over air pollution, responsible for 3,000 premature deaths a year in Hong Kong, and over the world’s most expensive home prices.
“The chief executive has a serious problem in credibility,” said Francis Chek, a 24-year-old information technology worker who attended one of the protests. “He used one lie to cover up another lie, he has no sincerity at all to tell the public the truth. Enough is enough.”
Leung took over in July after being elected by a 1,193-member committee comprising billionaires, lawmakers and representatives of business. His supporters have enough votes to reject any impeachment motion and blocked a no-confidence vote Dec. 12.
Leung said he was “negligent” and “careless” in dealing with unauthorized additions at his home, including a trellis, a gate that provided road access and a cover over a parking space, according to a statement dated Nov. 23. His explanations “caused public misunderstanding,” he said.
Leung won the post after casting doubt on the integrity of his main opponent, Henry Tang, following revelations that Tang and his wife built a basement with a wine cellar and movie theater at their house without government approval. Leung is a former property surveyor, a profession that includes consulting on real estate transactions and construction projects.
Opposition groups want to show “Leung has no real support among the people of Hong Kong,” said Michael DeGolyer, a political scientist at the Hong Kong Baptist University. They are using “this demonstration as a means to effectively pressure the incoming administration in Beijing.”
Leung has a support rating of 49.2 on a scale of 0 to 100 after six months in office, compared with 67.2 for Donald Tsang and 62.8 for Tung Chee-hwa in their first six months as the city’s leaders, according to the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme. The latest poll surveyed 1,006 people from Dec. 1 to Dec. 4.
Asked about the accusation that Leung lied, a government spokesman, who asked not to be named, declined to comment yesterday beyond an online statement. The government will listen to protesters’ views “in a humble manner,” according to the statement.
Participants in the pro-government rally “are from Hong Kong’s silent majority,” organizer Cheng Yiu-tong said in an interview on Cable TV. “They marched today to express support to the government, reflecting Hong Kong people’s desire for a harmonious society.”
China has promised to introduce universal suffrage to the city by 2017, meaning Leung would be the last leader chosen by a committee. Pro-democracy parties are calling for a quicker transition.
“Integrity is an issue but it’s not only about integrity,” said Jackie Hung, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of the organizers of yesterday’s protest. “The integrity issue shows that the current system doesn’t produce people who are capable to lead.”
Two anti-Leung rallies drew a total of 34,300 to 37,700, according to the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme. Nine people were arrested for disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, the government said in a statement today.
Pro-democracy lawmakers will introduce a motion charging Leung with “serious breaches” of the law and “dereliction of duty” by giving false statements in the legislature, according to a copy of the motion obtained from the Civic Party.
Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the motion could lead to an investigation led by Hong Kong’s top judge and possibly to an impeachment motion. The opposition holds about a third of the seats in the council.
Hong Kong’s economy will probably expand 3.9 percent in 2013, according to a forecast by the Asian Development Bank published in October. GDP increased 1.3 percent in the third quarter, government statistics show.
Since taking office, Leung has imposed three sets of property curbs, including an extra 15 percent tax on foreign buyers, to rein in prices. The city’s home prices have doubled over the past four years, surpassing their 1997 peak.
Hong Kong is the world’s priciest place to buy a home, according to broker Savills Plc, which compared prices in 10 cities, including New York and London, in a study published September.