Race to be Hong Kong's next leader kicks off

Story highlights

  • Only a tiny fraction of Hong Kongers get to vote on who the city's leader is
  • They will choose from three candidates at the end of the month

Hong Kong (CNN)Hong Kong is getting closer to knowing who will be its next leader.

As the majority of the city watches from the sidelines, a 1,194-person strong committee will begin deliberating over which of three candidates should be the next Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
    But the real decision will be made in Beijing. Almost two thirds of the election committee is made up of pro-establishment figures, who analysts say are unlikely to vote against the Communist Party's pick.
    That is believed to be Carrie Lam, who served as deputy to current leader CY Leung, and is entering the final stage of the selection process with 579 nominations, just 22 short of the amount of votes she'll need to win outright.
    "The Beijing authorities can control the process," said Duncan Innes-Ker, Asia regional director for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
    "China's government seems to have decided not to offer the flexibility shown previously. It has made its preference for Carrie Lam very clear and has lobbied support behind her."
    Hong Kong Chief Executive candidates Carrie Lam and John Tsang.

    Race begins

    Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing was nominated by pro-democrat electors.
    Lam will face off against John Tsang, a former Financial Secretary known as "Mr Pringles" for his iconic mustache reminiscent of the chips mascot, and 71-year-old Judge Woo Kwok-hing, who was nominated solely by pro-democracy members of the election committee.
    Two other candidates who had declared their intention to run -- pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip and anti-establishment firebrand "Longhair" Leung Kwok-hung -- dropped out after failing to gain the required 150 nominations.
    Ip said Wednesday that the current system was "too restrictive" and complained that she had been "squeezed out."
    "I hoped to be an open-minded pro-establishment candidate able to communicate with different parties and people, including those who did not like me," she said in a speech at her campaign office, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper.
    Replacing the current system and giving all Hong Kongers a say in who their leader is was a key demand of the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, but one that was not achieved.


    Members of the committee will vote for Lam, Tsang or Woo on March 26.
    Lam's high number of nominations "suggests that she will stroll to victory," said Innes-Ker.
    She can win in the first round if she gets more than 601 votes, but if no candidate clears the bar, the top two will go to a run-off.
    It's there that pro-democracy members of the committee -- they control around 25% of the seats -- hope to have an influence.
    They may be able to swing the race for Tsang, and buck what appears to be Beijing's choice.
    That said, Tsang is still very much an establishment player even if he doesn't appear to be Beijing's top pick. He was previously confirmed as financial secretary by Beijing, and shared a much written-about handshake with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.
    This hasn't stopped some commentators warning that Beijing might reject Tsang and refuse to approve him, something Innes-Ker said was unlikely.
    "The committee is stacked so that the central government can control it, precisely to avoid this sort of situation," he said.