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Hong Kong: Beijing's Favored Chief Executive Candidate Takes the Lead

3 MINS READMar 1, 2017 | 19:13 GMT

Hong Kong's election committee has chosen the three candidates who will vie for the region's chief executive post in an election set for March 26. After a two-week nomination process, Carrie Lam, John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing secured the support they needed on March 1 to compete for Hong Kong's highest office.

Lam, the region's former chief secretary and the candidate widely seen as Beijing's preferred choice for the position, raked in 572 of the committee's 1,200 votes — most of which came from supporters of the ruling establishment, Beijing or business leaders. Her total, which excludes seven votes deemed invalid, easily exceeded the 150-vote threshold needed for a nomination and was only 29 shy of the 601-vote benchmark needed to win the final election.

By comparison, Lam's rivals — former financial chief Tsang and retired judge Woo — earned 160 and 179 votes, respectively. (A fourth chief executive hopeful, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, pulled out of the race with only four confirmed votes.) Tsang and Woo received most of their backing from Hong Kong's pan-democrats. As the election advances to its final round, the pan-democrat camp will have to decide which of its candidates will pose a viable challenge to Lam. Given the extent of her support, however, this year's election seems certain to be less contentious than the last vote in 2012.

Bolstered by the backing of Beijing, Lam is widely expected to win the election. After all, the Chinese government still boasts extensive influence in Hong Kong's politics and electoral processes, and Beijing has been quick to throw its weight behind Lam as the popularity of the region's pro-democracy candidates has grown. Ahead of the nomination process, which began Feb. 14, two Chinese state leaders reportedly met with Hong Kong's pro-Beijing camp and conveyed the central government's decision to promote Lam. They even allegedly asked some electors to change their votes in her favor.

But despite her clear advantage, Lam's candidacy may fall short of Beijing's expectations. The pro-Beijing camp's labor and business segments did not yield as many votes for Lam as some had hoped, suggesting that the faction may not be as united as it once was. Beijing's determination to tamp down on challenges to Lam's victory, moreover, could further fuel the public's dissatisfaction with China's heavy-handed policies in Hong Kong. These sentiments have already begun to threaten Lam's electoral bid, as evidenced by the sporadic pro-democracy protests in the streets of Hong Kong — demonstrations that will likely continue in the lead-up to the election.

Regardless of who wins the March 26 vote, Hong Kong's next chief executive — the fourth to take office since the former British colony returned to Chinese hands — will have to contend with rising calls for democracy, an increasingly polarized society and risks to the region's economic fortunes at home. All the while, challenges to the "one country, two system" formula that has guided Hong Kong's relationship with mainland China since 1997 will continue to mount.

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