Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Three win right to compete in HK leadership race

Reuters, HONG KONG

Two former officials and a retired judge yesterday won the right to compete to become the next leader of Hong Kong, a job that requires balancing the demands of Chinese Communist Party rulers in Beijing and growing calls for democracy at home.

The next chief executive, the fourth since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule 20 years ago, must restore the public’s faith in the “one country, two systems” formula that promises extensive autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

That principle has come under strain with what many residents see as creeping interference by China in the financial hub’s legal affairs and freedom of speech, not least with the shadowy detention of five Hong Kong booksellers in late 2015.

The contest for the five-year term is the first since mass pro-democracy street protests rocked Hong Kong in late 2014, ending with the streets being cleared and no concession by the government, denting the popularity of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), who is not seeking a second term.

“I hear loud and clear the people want society to be unified again. People want to restore social harmony, so Hong Kong can move on with the many issues we need to tackle,” former civil service chief and election frontrunner Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) told reporters on Monday.

Lam, 59, grabbed the most nominations out of a 1,200-member committee stacked mostly with Beijing loyalists. The same committee is to pick the next leader in a secret ballot on March 26.

Lam, who if elected would become Hong Kong’s first female leader, said she would not rush into “extremely controversial” issues such as reforming Hong Kong’s largely undemocratic system.

She was the flag-bearer for a contentious Beijing-backed political reform package that was rejected by pro-democracy lawmakers and seen as a trigger for the months-long, sometimes violent “Umbrella movement” protests in 2014.

Former financial secretary John Tsang (曾俊華), who leads public popularity polls, and outspoken retired judge Woo Kwok-hing (胡國興), also made it onto the ballot after nominations closed yesterday.

They are competing over a divided territory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has spoken against a nascent independence movement in Hong Kong, warnings echoed by many establishment figures.

However, many Hong Kongers were alarmed by the detention of the five Hong Kong-based booksellers by mainland Chinese agents, sparking an outcry over Beijing’s encroachment in the territory.

The winner of the race is likely to be sworn in by Xi on July 1, the 20th anniversary of the 1997 handover.

Although most Hong Kongers are unable to vote, the “election” has been the talk of the territory for months, with the candidates’ photographs and caricatures dominating newspaper pages and Facebook walls.

Lam, nicknamed “fighter,” is widely rumored to be Beijing’s preferred candidate.

Multiple media outlets, citing sources, reported that Beijing’s No. 3 official, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee Chairman Zhang Dejiang (張德江), early last month called her the “only candidate supported by the central government.”

She also received backing from many of the territory’s powerful property tycoons.

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