Asia

Hong Kong leader's race pits Beijing's pick vs 'Uncle Chips'

  • FILE - In this March 23, 2017, file photo, Hong Kong chief executive candidate, former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, waves to supporters at an election campaign in Hong Kong. She’s seen as loyal to China’s Communist leaders yet without the polarizing persona of her former boss Leung Chun-ying, whose initials inspired Lam’s nickname of C.Y. 2.0. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

    FILE - In this March 23, 2017, file photo, Hong Kong chief executive candidate, former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, waves to supporters at an election campaign in Hong Kong. She’s seen as loyal to China’s Communist leaders yet without the polarizing persona of her former boss Leung Chun-ying, whose initials inspired Lam’s nickname of C.Y. 2.0. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 24, 2017, file photo, Chief Executive candidate, Hong Kong's former Financial Secretary John Tsang gives a thumbs-up to supporters at an election campaign in Hong Kong. Tsang, 65, has been dubbed “Mr. Pringles” or “Uncle Chips” in Cantonese because his signature moustache lends him a resemblance to the snack food mascot. In turn, his fans call themselves “small potatoes.” (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

    FILE - In this March 24, 2017, file photo, Chief Executive candidate, Hong Kong's former Financial Secretary John Tsang gives a thumbs-up to supporters at an election campaign in Hong Kong. Tsang, 65, has been dubbed “Mr. Pringles” or “Uncle Chips” in Cantonese because his signature moustache lends him a resemblance to the snack food mascot. In turn, his fans call themselves “small potatoes.” (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 14, 2017, file photo, Hong Kong chief executive candidate, former judge Woo Kwok-hing, listens to questions during a chief executive election debate in Hong Kong. Woo is a retired High Court judge who was unknown to most Hong Kongers until he declared his candidacy. Woo, 71, has little experience in politics and public administration aside from 13 years as chairman of the Hong Kong commission overseeing election affairs.  (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

    FILE - In this March 14, 2017, file photo, Hong Kong chief executive candidate, former judge Woo Kwok-hing, listens to questions during a chief executive election debate in Hong Kong. Woo is a retired High Court judge who was unknown to most Hong Kongers until he declared his candidacy. Woo, 71, has little experience in politics and public administration aside from 13 years as chairman of the Hong Kong commission overseeing election affairs. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)  (The Associated Press)

Hong Kong's next leader will be chosen Sunday by an election committee stacked with pro-Beijing elites who heed the wishes of China's communist leaders rather than the semiautonomous region's voters.

The candidates are front-runner Carrie Lam, a career civil servant who is widely seen as Beijing's favorite, chief rival John Tsang and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. A closer look at each potential replacement to unpopular incumbent Leung Chun-ying, whose term ends in June:

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THE FRONTRUNNER — A lifelong civil servant who rose to Hong Kong's second-highest office, former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam is Beijing's preference. She's seen as loyal to China's Communist leaders yet without the polarizing persona of her former boss Leung, whose initials inspired Lam's nickname of C.Y. 2.0. During the 2014 pro-democracy protests, Lam led the government debaters who faced off on television against the movement's student-activist leaders.

Lam, 59 and a devout Catholic, was once one of Hong Kong's most popular government officials but her attempts to connect with ordinary people have reduced her support in opinion polls. She was the last candidate to set up an official Facebook page, which then drew a flood of angry emojis. She burnished her pro-Beijing credentials with one of her final acts as chief secretary in December, when she suddenly announced that Hong Kong's new arts hub would include a branch of Beijing's palace museum, a decision that lacked public input.

THE PEOPLES' CHOICE — John Tsang, 65, has been dubbed "Mr. Pringles" or "Uncle Chips" in Cantonese because his signature moustache lends him a resemblance to the snack food mascot. In turn, his fans call themselves "small potatoes." He was Hong Kong's financial secretary before quitting in December to campaign for the leadership, but Beijing didn't approve his resignation for weeks, a sign taken by observers that he wasn't in favor. Lam's resignation, in contrast, was approved in days.

Tsang, a fencing and martial arts enthusiast, moved to the U.S. when he was 13 and earned degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard before returning to Hong Kong. He's one of Hong Kong's most popular officials, thanks to his easygoing persona; a few years ago he was hit on the head by an egg thrown by a protester aiming for Leung but merely shrugged it off, joking that he wasn't wearing a good suit. His detractors have criticized him for vastly underestimating Hong Kong's budget surplus for most of the nine years he was budget secretary as well as failing to use the Asian financial hub's massive stash of capital reserves effectively.

THE THIRD OPTION — Woo Kwok-hing is a retired High Court judge who was unknown to most Hong Kongers until he declared his candidacy. Woo, 71, has little experience in politics and public administration aside from 13 years as chairman of the Hong Kong commission overseeing election affairs. He's not seen as having Beijing's support because he has spoken about his plan to revamp Hong Kong's election system to give every resident the chance to vote for its leader.

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Follow Kelvin Chan on Twitter at twitter.com/chanman

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