Veteran civil servant Donald Tsang (
Tsang trounced his two rivals by collecting 710 of the nominations from the election panel of about 800 people. The other candidates -- both lawmakers -- conceded days ago they were unable to win the minimum 100 nominations they needed to be placed on the July 10 ballot.
Tsang announced his nomination count shortly after filing with election officials, who would verify the endorsements and were to announce results today.
"The process was very smooth," Tsang said at his campaign office.
"I feel very excited. I feel I have more responsibilities," he added.
The race was never really a contest for Tsang because his campaign had the biggest advantage: support from Chinese leaders. The election committee is dominated by members loyal to Beijing.
Hong Kong voters were never allowed to directly elect their leaders when the territory was a British colony. Beijing continued to deny them the right when the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula designed to allow a wide-degree of autonomy.
Yesterday, radical lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung (
Tsang was the right-hand man to former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa (
Tsang's rivals in the leadership race were pro-democracy Legislator Lee Wing-tat (李永達) and ex-convict Legislator Chim Pui-chung (詹培忠). Both have complained that the race was unfair because Tsang refused to debate them. But the front-runner said that he would only debate candidates who collected enough nominations to be on the final ballot.
Lee told reporters yesterday that he only collected 51 endorsements. He alleged that people who showed interest in supporting him were targeted by pro-Beijing organizations that urged them to support Tsang.
"If they show any intention to nominate me, they'll receive many phone calls," he said.
Chim conceded the election was over. "I have no chance of beating my opponent, Mr. Tsang," he said.
The flamboyant, bowtie-wearing Tsang seems like an unlikely success story. A policeman's son, he never went to college. He briefly worked as a pharmaceutical salesman before joining the civil service, where he has worked for nearly 40 years.
He became financial secretary in 1995, the first ethnic Chinese to hold the job in 150 years of British rule. He was named a knight of the British Empire in the final days of British rule -- an honor that many thought would doom him if he stayed in government after the handover to China.
During Tung's eight years of rule, Tsang was reputed to be a loyal official who efficiently carried out orders. When Tung resigned, Tsang was the No. 2 ranking official responsible for running the government.
Tsang has had cordial ties with the pro-democracy camp, but it's unlikely he'll push hard for bold political reforms -- a move that would quickly sour relations with Beijing. He acknowledged in a recent TV interview that a Hong Kong leader could not be successful without the support of China's central government.