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HK lawmakers try to impeach Beijing-backed leader

HONG KONG: Lawmakers were making a symbolic attempt Wednesday to impeach Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, the latest sign of the widening gulf between the semiautonomous southern Chinese city and its political masters in Beijing.
Pro-democracy members of Hong Kong’s legislature were planning to introduce a motion to charge the city’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, with serious breaches of law that could lead to his impeachment. They allege Leung misled them about illegal renovations to his mansion.
It’s the first such attempt to impeach a Hong Kong leader since the former British colony came back under China’s control in 1997. Leung survived a no-confidence vote in December.
The motion was unlikely to pass because the 27 legislators are outnumbered by pro-Beijing representatives in the 70-seat Legislative Council. But it was an attempt to “show the deep mistrust against the chief executive,” who is suffering from a credibility crisis, said Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University of Hong Kong. Leung, whose approval rating has fallen to around 50 percent, still has the support of China’s communist leaders.
Leung has become a lightning rod for growing public discontent since taking office in July. Anger over a wide range of issues stems from the city’s fraught relationship with mainland China.
On New Year’s Day, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to call for Leung to step down and to press for full democracy. Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong residents can elect their leader by 2017 at the earliest though no roadmap has been laid out.
Leung took office in July after being handpicked for the city’s top job by an elite group of mostly pro-Beijing tycoons. He won the job after taking advantage of a scandal involving a huge, unauthorized basement in his rival’s home. But shortly before taking office, illegal additions were also discovered at Leung’s home in the exclusive Victoria Peak neighborhood.
Leung has apologized and removed the structures, which included a trellis and a gate. He said some of them were put in before he bought the house.
Even if the motion was approved, Leung is still unlikely to be impeached because an investigation committee headed by the secretary of justice would have to be formed and any findings approved by a two-thirds majority in the legislature.
Beijing has granted Hong Kong rights and freedoms not seen on mainland China and a high degree of autonomy until 2047. The impeachment bid is yet another sign of how Hong Kongers have become increasingly uneasy over the mainland’s growing influence, especially in the form of an influx of visitors coming to shop, buy property and even give birth, putting a strain on the city’s limited resources and pushing up prices.