Ma Ying-jeou was re-elected Taiwan’s president in January 2012 after winning a total of 6.89 million votes. Two months later CY Leung was also elected to Hong Kong’s top post with 689 votes – garnered from a 1,200-strong committee dominated by pro-Beijing members.
The staggering difference between the number of votes required to lead Taiwan versus the former UK colony is why the nickname “689” has been widely used by Hongkongers to mock their unpopular leader (“9” also sounds the same as “dog” in Cantonese).
Hong Kong will soon have its first female political boss after Carrie Lam won a divisive election on Sunday (her terms starts on July 1). Lam might have broken the glass ceiling but after winning 777 votes from the same election committee, the Beijing-backed candidate has already got a new nickname that might plague her time in office. Lam has already been dubbed “CY 2.0” for serving as Leung’s most senior official over the past five years. But “777” looks worse. In colloquial Cantonese, “7” could be an expletive too – slang for the male genitalia (Samsung’s marketing team in Hong Kong painfully found this out when launching the controversial Note 7, see WiC343).
Lam’s fans tried to put a more positive spin on the digits, suggesting that Hong Kong’s luck has returned as “777” is the number that comes up when one wins the jackpot in a casino slot machine.
Things could have been vastly different should a Beijing-initiated electoral reform have gone through in 2014. This was set to introduce universal suffrage for the 2017 election. But it got blocked in the city’s legislative body as pro-democracy legislators insisted that any Hongkonger should be allowed to stand, while the reform still gave Beijing the right to pre-screen the candidates (see WiC287). Had that reform been enacted, opinion polls suggest John Tsang – formerly the financial secretary and the favoured candidate of the pro-democracy groups – would have beaten Lam. So you might say Hong Kong’s democracy activists ended up shooting themselves in the foot. They can complain about Lam’s election, but they played their own part in ensuring that outcome.
Meanwhile two out of the four leaders in Greater China (which includes the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) are now women. Mao Zedong might have considered that ratio appropriate, having coined the maxim that women represent “half the sky”.
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