In Hong Kong, thousands of people protested against Leung Chun-ying, the city’s Beijing-backed leader, for his involvement in an illegal construction scandal.
The organizers of the two rallies held against Leung claim that around 140,000 people participated, while the police estimates that the number of people was around 19,500. The protests were primarily sparked by the fact that Leung failed to explain building work done on his home, which led to a decrease public trust and raised suspicions he might have covered up this scandal while campaigning for office.
Leung was elected in March 2012 by a 1,200 member committee dominated by pro-China appointees, further infuriating many Hong Kong residents about China’s meddling in local affairs. His rival for the post, Henry Tang, was discredited precisely due to adding illegal structures to his personal home. Leung is now widely regarded as a hypocrite, because, during the campaign, he criticized Tang for his the unauthorized construction, while failing to confess his own illegal house additions. Although Leung has apologized for the illegal constructions made to his home, his apology does not seem to have impressed the numerous protesters taking part in the two rallies today, who demanded his resignation.
Since taking office, Leung has had to contend with multiple policy challenges, which included an unpopular pro-Beijing education curriculum that was eventually abandoned and high housing prices. Many Hong Kong residents consider increasing immigration and tourism from mainland China to drive housing prices to astonishing levels, causing overcrowding in schools and making it difficult for young people to find jobs. Leung has tackled these particular issues by imposing steep taxes on short-term real estate investments by individuals who are not permanent Hong Kong residents and banning local hospitals from appointing more births for mainland women.
Nevertheless, Leung’s populist moves have thus far had only a limited impact on changing the public’s aversion to him. Leung continues to be named the „wolf” for his alleged abrasive style and close ties to the Communist Party. Moreover, according to a the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Program, the percentage of people dissatisfied with Hong Kong’s development has risen to 46 percent compared to 35 a year ago.
While he may be resented by numerous Hong Kong residents, it is highly unlikely that Leung will be forced to resign, given the continued backing he receives from Beijing. Both President Hu Jintao and the Communist Paty's Secretary General, Xi Jinping, affirmed their support for Leung’s administration. Moreover, three weeks ago, Leung was saved from a no-confidence measure by lawmakers representing business leaders and Beijing-related groups who support him.
During the rallies, the protesters coupled their opposition to Leung with the demand for an immediate introduction of universal suffrage when choosing the leader of Hong Kong, a territory that was returned to mainland China in 1997 with a semi-autonomous status. Beijing has promised that Hong Kong’s citizens would be able to directly elect their chief executive in 2017 at the earliest, with the legislature following by 2020. Currently, the top leader is elected under a system called "small-circle" election, which excluded the majority of possible voters.
According to the spokeswoman for the protest-organizing agency Civil Human Rights Front, most of the policies currently introduced do not reflect people’s interests, because the government is not democratic.