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Hong Kong's leader faces pressure to resign. Will her replacement be any better?

David Pierson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

HONG KONG -- It seemed impossible to conceive Hong Kong could produce a more unpopular leader than Leung Chun-ying, the hapless one-term chief executive who was despised for refusing to negotiate with activists during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests.

Enter Carrie Lam, the career civil servant who's now at the center of Hong Kong's biggest political crisis since Britain returned the former colony to China in 1997.

On Sunday, 2 million people -- about one-quarter of the territory's population -- crowded the city's streets and demanded her resignation for championing a now suspended extradition bill seen as an affront to Hong Kong's autonomy. A written apology by Lam that evening was widely panned as insincere -- a classic case of too little, too late.

On Monday, pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong, used his first public appearance after being released from a month in prison to call for Lam to resign.

"It's time for her to step down," said Wong, the 22-year-old face of the Umbrella Movement, who was serving time for contempt of court.

It's unclear if Lam's critics will get their wish. But if they do, her removal could amount to a Pyrrhic victory. Lam's replacement could be even more unpopular.

 

Hong Kong's next leader will almost certainly take a tougher line on democracy and push harder to integrate the city of 7 million with mainland China.

"The next one will be worse," said Mary Koo, a 26-year-old protester attending a rally outside the government's offices Monday. "The Chinese government will make sure."

It's the nature of a job that has the auspices of serving the popular demands of Hong Kongers, but ultimately answers to an authoritarian behemoth that's been steadily quashing dissent and expanding control under President Xi Jinping. Beijing prescreens candidates for chief executive, ensuring Hong Kong's leaders are always loyal.

"The chief executive is an impossible job," said Willy Lam (no relation to Carrie Lam), a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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