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Thursday, Oct 29, 2020

Protesters snub Carrie Lam’s policy address and denounce it as a bid to silence middle class by turning them into property slaves

Protesters snub Carrie Lam’s policy address and denounce it as a bid to silence middle class by turning them into property slaves

Internet users on forum LIHKG pour scorn on chief executive’s blueprint, with few bothering to show up at speech venue in morning. Most protesters celebrating ‘win’ with passage of US bill, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act
Hong Kong protesters, who were nowhere in sight as Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor delivered her policy address on Wednesday amid the worst political unrest since 1997, have accused her of trying to silence the middle class by dangling new measures to entice them into becoming homeowners.

The government wanted them to become property slaves, they said, referring to a new initiative Lam announced to relax the ceiling of mortgage financing schemes for first-time homebuyers. For those who are allowed to borrow up to 90 per cent of the value of the flat, the lending cap has been raised to HK$8 million (US$1 million) from the existing HK$4 million.

For those able to take mortgages worth up to 80 per cent of the property value, the cap has been raised to HK$10 million from HK$6 million.

“Lam wants to fool the middle class into buying flats and becoming property slaves, so they would refrain from protesting as they do not want to see the property market plunge,” a 30-year-old protester, surnamed Yeung, said.

“She is trying to solve political issues with economic measures, but it is impossible to resolve the citizens’ discontent as long as she refuses to address the five demands.”

Yeung, an executive assistant, said she had no plans to own a flat despite the new measures as she saw no future in the city given the current political climate.

She also argued that property prices would only be driven up further while the ordeal of lower income groups would not be alleviated if rent controls were not put in place to curb unreasonable increases.

The social unrest, triggered by the now-shelved extradition bill in June, has gradually morphed into a full-fledged anti-government movement focusing on democracy and police accountability.

In withdrawing the bill last month, Lam addressed only one of the five demands of protesters. The others are amnesty for those arrested during protests; refraining from classifying the protests as riots; an independent probe into police actions during the protests; and the implementation of universal suffrage.

Other protesters also poured scorn on Lam’s policy blueprint on the Reddit-like site LIHKG, which has become the virtual command centre of the months-long movement.

A user said it was a dangerous move for Lam to relax the mortgage ceilings as it was no different from encouraging citizens to become flat owners, and that would put some in a difficult financial situation once the property bubble burst.

Others also said it was naive of Lam’s cabinet to believe protests would die down if more people became homeowners.

A 17-year-old high-school student, also surnamed Yeung, accused Lam of sidetracking Hongkongers’ call for democracy and freedoms with economic development in her policy address. She also cast doubts on Lam’s move to relax the mortgage ceiling, fearing new homebuyers would fall into negative equity.

While discussion online was fierce and vocal, the black-clad protesters were nowhere to be seen outside or anywhere near the Legislative Council Complex where Lam was scheduled to deliver her policy address. They stayed away, and were online celebrating their “win” as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was approved by the US House of Representatives.

The bill would impose diplomatic and economic sanctions against the Hong Kong government if it was deemed to be acting against democratic freedoms.

To go into effect, the bill still must be approved by the US Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The tight security outside Legco proved unnecessary, as protesters who showed up were mostly members of the League of Social Democrats, led by ousted lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.

Some protesters said online it was better to ignore Lam and her policy address which “nobody cared about”, while Leung also said the thin crowd showed people did not take the chief executive seriously.

But Lam’s attempt to deliver her third policy address in the chamber was soon interrupted by pan-democrats, who repeatedly heckled and jeered her and even used a handheld projector to beam the slogan “five demands, not one less” on her face and the wall behind her.

As she walked in, they also played the audio recording of gunshots and screaming of protesters, which they said represented “the hardship and pain” Hongkongers have experienced in the past four months.

Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen first suspended the sitting. It resumed soon after, only to be adjourned within minutes amid the chaos wrought by the pan-democrats.

Lam eventually delivered her policy blueprint via video – a first since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and the first time since such addresses were made from 1948.

Lawmaker Martin Liao Cheung-kong, convenor of the pro-establishment bloc, denounced the pan-democrats’ antics as “totally unforgivable”.

“The chief executive came to deliver the policy address and Legco is under a constitutional duty to hear and discuss. That has been prevented for no good reason,” he said.

But their opponents shrugged off the accusations.

“Our duty is to bring the voice of Hong Kong’s people into the legislature. This morning we did exactly that,” said Council Front lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching.
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