HONG KONG – Veteran civil servant Donald Tsang (search) effectively won Hong Kong's (search) leadership race on Wednesday, filing papers that showed he had the solid backing of an election committee that picks the Chinese territory's leaders.
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 announce results Thursday.
"The process was very smooth," Tsang told reporters 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.
On Wednesday, radical lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, also known as "Long Hair," protested at Tsang's campaign office, demanding that Hong Kongers be given the right to elect their leaders. He scuffled with security guards and yelled, "Shame on you Donald Tsang" and "Small-circle election. It's worse than pigs and dogs."
Tsang was the right-hand man for the previous leader, Tung Chee-hwa, who resigned in March citing failing health. Many believe that Beijing lost confidence in Tung and pushed him out to make way for Tsang, who was more experienced in running the city.
Tsang's rivals in the leadership race were pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Wing-tat and ex-convict legislator Chim Pui-chung. Both have complained that the race was unfair because Tsang refused to debate them.
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.