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How Do Hongkongers Feel About Their Chief Executive Saying the Poor Shouldn't Control Elections?

C.Y. Leung told international media outlets that direct elections would give too much power to those below the poverty line.

Footage from a protest. Screengrab from SCMPTV

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, already demonized by pro-democracy protesters in his city, made himself an even easier target a few days ago when he said, “If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month." In other words, "We can't have full democracy in this city because otherwise the poor will take over."


This gets to the heart of what's driving the current protest movement: The average Hongkonger's vote is a joke because they aren't free to nominate their own leaders. Instead, a 1,200-member nominating committee—dominated by Beijing and business interests—approves candidates before the general public ever gets to vote. Essentially, every candidate must first be vetted by the business elite.

While Hong Kong was still reeling from the insult, I caught up with a few locals to see what they had to say about Leung's brash statements. They didn't want to show their faces while talking to the foreign press, so I photographed them artfully instead.

VICE: How old are you, and what do you do?
Carolyn: I'm 21, and I'm an English tutor and full-time university student.

I guess that means that you make less than HK$14,000 (US$1,800) a month.

That means you're a second-class citizen who shouldn't vote! What's that like?
That's so stupid. I feel slighted because my monetary worth does not signify my value as a citizen. There are many people who, due to a variety of circumstances, cannot make HK$14,000 every month, but that does not mean they are less of a citizen.

Is there a policy in Hong Kong that you would like to see changed?
The education system is kind of bad. People who come out of the system are not ready for university or real work because they don't have practical skills, especially after recent reforms that shortened pre-university education by one year.


VICE: How old are you, and what do you do?
Jessica: I'm 28, and I work in finance.

Does that put you over the poverty mark?
Several times over.

That's great! I guess that means you're a first-class citizen.
It's nice, I guess, but I still haven't managed to find and buy a home I want.

Do you want see the voting system be made more democratic?
Sure. It's always better to have a choice than not to.

What policies would you change with your vote?
Any policy that encourages the influx of mainland Chinese tourists and the unhealthy growth of the retail industry—of shops that Hong Kong doesn't need more of.

VICE: How old are you, and what do you do?
Marcus: I'm 29, and I'm a freelance marketing consultant.

That sounds tricky. Does that keep you over the HK$14,000 mark every month?
My income fluctuates, and it can dip below the HK$14,000 threshold depending on my workload. With that said, I don't feel like I'm part of the “below 14k” stereotype, if that stereotype exists at all.

What's it like being among Hong Kong's poor?
In terms of income, I might be [poor]. But in terms of feeling and thinking, and how I participate in societal affairs, I don't believe in that distinction and labeling. I believe that we are created equal and while our needs for societal support are unique and different, our contributions are unique and different as well. I can't say that a tycoon is more important to Hong Kong than a janitor—we just need everyone to function together and do their part, and that egalitarian thinking applies to both what we can give and what we can ask for.

Do you want a direct vote?
Absolutely. I believe an authentic vote is my way of participating in the management of this city, as well as its direction and development. It's me saying that I am part of this city instead of a drone who happens to be in the vicinity. To me, a voice in the system signifies ownership, and endows the right and responsibility that comes with being an owner.