HONG KONG – Hong Kong is poised to choose a new leader on Sunday when members of a committee dominated by elites favored by Beijing cast their ballots in the first such vote since 2014's huge pro-democracy protests.
Here's a look at the electoral system in place, which critics have dubbed a "small-circle" or "fake" election because of its strict limits on popular participation:
Current leader Leung Chun-ying, a deeply polarizing and highly unpopular figure, said he would not seek a second term after his current one expires on June 30, citing family reasons. Political analysts suspect he had to make a face-saving exit because Beijing asked him to step aside for someone better liked.
WHO GETS TO CHOOSE?
Hong Kong's 3.8 million registered voters have no say in the vote for their chief executive. Instead, the leader will be chosen by an election committee that is supposed to be "broadly representative," under Hong Kong's mini-constitution, but which has only has 1,194 members. The committee represents 38 industry and trade groups, many of which have traditionally supported China's central government and its policies. They include importers and exporters, dealers in Chinese medicine and representatives from agriculture and fisheries. Pro-Beijing tycoons like billionaire Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest person, are prominent members, although Hong Kong lawmakers, local councilors and delegates to China's parliament also have votes. And the number of pro-democracy supporters is growing: They won 326 seats, mostly in the education, legal, health and social welfare sectors, in voting in December.
BEIJING PULLS THE STRINGS:
Carrie Lam, who was Leung's deputy, is the odds-on favorite to win. She's widely seen as having Beijing's backing, despite not being the most popular candidate, and China's communist leaders have reportedly lobbied committee members to throw their support behind her. Li, the influential billionaire, said earlier this week that he would vote for the person who has good relations with Beijing, which many took to mean that he preferred Lam. Her rivals include John "Pringles" Tsang, a former financial secretary who has broad public support and is nicknamed for his resemblance to the famous snack food mascot, and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. But analysts say that, lacking Beijing's endorsement, they stand little chance.
THE BIGGER PICTURE:
Disagreements over how to revamp the system were at the heart of massive street protests in 2014, pitting young pro-democracy activists against the city's Beijing-backed government. Beijing said it would allow Hong Kongers to vote for their leader, but insisted that it be allowed to pre-screen candidates based on their loyalty to China. The young "Umbrella Movement" leaders rejected that proposal and demanded that nominees be allowed to run regardless of Beijing's say-so. The protests ended without resolution and lawmakers rejected Beijing's electoral proposal, leaving Hong Kong's political reform in limbo — and tensions simmering. Any attempt by Hong Kong's next leader to revive the issue could rekindle those tensions, experts say. "The protests about election reform will begin again when the election reform legislation is tabled again and debate resumed," said political commentator Suzanne Pepper , who maintains a blog tracking Hong Kong electoral politics. Lam seems hesitant because she's already been through the process once before, Pepper said. "The issue definitely is not dead and done with, just in a holding pattern pending further action," Pepper said.
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