HONG KONG — The Beijing-appointed leader of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, said Monday that allowing his successors to be chosen in open elections based on who won the greatest number of votes was unacceptable in part because it risked giving poorer residents a dominant voice in politics.
Leung gave the warning in a broad-ranging defense of his government’s handling of pro-democracy protests that have wracked the city for more than three weeks. He acknowledged that many protesters were angered by the city’s lack of social mobility and affordable housing but argued that containing populist pressures was an important reason for resisting protesters’ demands.
Instead, he offered a firm defense of Beijing’s position that candidates to succeed him must be screened by a “broadly representative” nominating committee, which would insulate Hong Kong’s next chief executive from popular pressure to create a welfare state and allow the government to implement more business-friendly policies to address economic inequality.
Leung’s blunt remarks — which seemed to reflect a commonly held view among the Hong Kong elite that the general public cannot be trusted to govern the city well — appeared likely to draw fresh criticism from the democratic opposition and to inflame the street struggle over Hong Kong’s political future, which has been has been fueled in part by economic discontent, especially among younger residents.
He spoke on the eve of talks, scheduled to be televised, between his government and student leaders, who have portrayed him as defending a political system stacked against ordinary citizens.
Leung said that if “you look at the meaning of the words ‘broadly representative,’ it’s not numeric representation.”
Leung, whom the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership has repeatedly endorsed, argued that remedying social grievances should be left to policies like expanding the supply of housing and spurring economic growth as a cure for stagnating upward mobility. He stressed the importance of maintaining the confidence of Hong Kong’s corporate elite, pointing out that the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, had been written a quarter-century ago partly with the goal of maintaining business confidence by containing public pressure for the creation of a European-style welfare state.
Leung raised again the suspicions of his government and of Beijing that “foreign forces” had played a role in the street protests, although he declined repeatedly to identify those forces or provide any examples.
“I didn’t overhear it in a teahouse, and it’s something that concerns us,” he said. “It’s something that we need to deal with.”