Hong Kong Elite Meet to Select Leader of Divided Financial Hub

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Hong Kong’s elite meet Sunday to choose a new chief executive in a vote marked by leaks about China’s behind-the-scenes efforts to influence who runs the former British colony.

Carrie Lam Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

The election pits Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official, Carrie Lam, 59, against her former colleague, ex-Financial Secretary John Tsang, 65, and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. The public have little say over who will lead the city of 7.3 million for the next five years. The decision is made by an election committee of 1,194 political and business elites.

Lam’s bid has been complicated by weeks of media reports that Chinese leaders have anointed her to win the election amid increasingly vocal criticism of the country’s stewardship over Hong Kong. The lobbying risks aggravating frustrations with the political system — illustrated by the Occupy protests of 2014 — even if Chinese President Xi Jinping secures a proven loyalist as chief executive.

The committee’s pro-Beijing politicians helped Lam secure 580 nominations to run, more than triple each of her opponents and just shy of the 601 votes needed to win in Sunday’s vote. Ballots are secret, leaving open the possibility of a surprise.

Voting will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, the sole polling place in the city. Politicians, activists, professionals and business leaders — including nine billionaires with a combined wealth of more than $100 billion — will vote.

Ballots will be opened at 11 a.m., with results expected within an hour or two. While more rounds of voting will occur if no candidate receives a majority, runoffs haven’t been necessary in past elections.

John Tsang Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

A Tsang victory would represent a slap to China, forcing it to decide whether to veto the closest thing the country has to a leadership election. He has pledges from more than 290 opposition members on the committee.

China has shown little tolerance for uncertainty after the emergence of a pro-independence movement, stepping in to interpret the city’s charter and bar two radical lawmakers from the local legislature. Zhang Dejiang — the Communist Party’s No. 3 leader — told business executives and political leaders last month that Lam was preferred, the Standard newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.

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