Loyalist committee chooses Lam as Hong Kong′s next leader | News | DW | 26.03.2017
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Loyalist committee chooses Lam as Hong Kong's next leader

Critics have accused the 1,194-member election committee of being heavily stacked with Beijing loyalists. Protests have coincided with the selection process, which pits establishment figures against each other.

Hong Kong's election committee chose former government official Carrie Lam as the city's next leader on Sunday, local broadcaster Cable TV reported.

Lam, widely billed as Beijing's top pick, won with 777 votes. She will become the city's first female leader and the fourth leader since British colonial control ended in 1997.

On hearing her victory, Lam bowed to the crowd and shook hands with second-place finisher, former finance secretary John Tsang, who received 365 votes.

Pro-democracy protesters gathered near the polling site as results were counted. Many of them carried placards criticizing the electoral process as well as yellow umbrellas - the symbol of the 2014 protests. They were in turn surrounded by dozens of counter-demonstrators. Police cordoned off the area to separate the two groups.

Activists claim that the majority of the city's 7.3 million people have no say in their next leader.

Although Hong Kong's Basic Law stipulates the city should work towards universal suffrage, proposals to reform the election process have stalled since 2014, when pro-democracy protests swept across the city.

That year, Beijing agreed to allow residents to vote for the next leader. However, under the deal, the candidates would be vetted by an election committee of alleged pro-China members.

The proposal prompted mass protests called the Umbrella Movement, led by a small group of students urging authorities to implement democratic reforms.

In 2015, pro-democracy lawmakers rejected the Beijing-backed reform plan, effectively stalling the debate.

China's foreign ministry said Sunday's vote was not only relevant for the city, but also to "the central government's exercise of sovereignty and governance over Hong Kong."

Hundreds of protesters had also taken to the streets on Saturday to protests their exclusion from the electoral process for the city's chief executive.

Lam said she hoped to soothe tensions in the city, which is split by political divisions and saddled with sluggish economic growth.

"Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness," Lam said in a victory speech.

"My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustrations and to unite our society to move forward."

Establishment candidates

Lam has served as the deputy leader of the city-state. She is seen as loyal to China's Communist leaders, although without the polarizing persona of the current leader, Leung Chun-ying.

Her main challenger, John Tsang, is the city's former financial secretary. He is perceived as a more moderate pro-establishment figure, who has called for unity among Hong Kong residents following the pro-democracy protests.

"I hope we all remember (...) we Hong Kong people have all come together and given our most sincere blessings for a more united, a better Hong Kong," Tsang said on Friday during a rally.

The election committee's members are chosen by 246,440 voters from sectors ranging from arts and culture to real estate and agriculture. Hong Kong's 70 lawmakers automatically receive a place on the committee.

ls, aw/kl (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)