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Beijing Favorite Carrie Lam to Be Hong Kong's Next Leader -- 2nd Update

26 Mar 2017 8:17 am
By Chester Yung and John Lyons 

HONG KONG--Hong Kong's electoral committee picked a staunchly pro-China candidate to lead the city in voting that underscored Beijing's growing political influence on the former British colony.

The 1,194-member committee stacked with pro-Beijing business leaders and politicians chose Carrie Lam, a longtime city official who was widely viewed as Beijing's favorite in the three-person race. During the campaign, electors acknowledged receiving phone calls from Beijing representatives instructing them to pick Ms. Lam.

The vote for chief executive comes at a sensitive time for Beijing. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China. Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping is tightening political control ahead of a Communist Party congress this fall that is expected to further cement his leadership. Both events put a premium on having a Hong Kong leader in place who can avoid political disturbances such as those in 2014, when dissatisfaction with the political process led to widespread pro-democracy protests.

Ms. Lam, a 59-year-old mother of two, steps into a post fraught with pitfalls. The former bureaucrat, who will become the city's first female chief executive, must now balance the demands of mainland Chinese authorities who are seeking greater control over Hong Kong life with city residents who are accustomed to Western norms such as rule of law.

She defeated John Tsang, a U.S.-educated Hong Kong civil servant who polls indicated was far more popular than Ms. Lam, but who was widely seen as lacking the backing of Beijing. Ms. Lam garnered 777 votes, compared with 365 for Mr. Tsang and 21 for a third-place finisher. She will serve a five-year term.

In a speech after the results were announced, Ms. Lam said she would focus on mending social rifts.

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

Ms. Lam campaigned on increasing spending to alleviate day-to-day problems such as housing shortages and improve social services in a city with one of the widest rich-poor gaps for any developed society.

But tensions resurfaced on Sunday as protesters decried the result, which they deem undemocratic because the city's 7.35 million people have no direct vote. A small group of protesters carrying signs and shouting pro-autonomy slogans inside the convention hall where the ballots were counted briefly disrupted the announcement of Ms. Lam's victory. Ms Lam stood expressionless on a stage until the disturbance died down.

Political analyst Dixon Sing says Ms. Lam may come under pressure from Beijing to pass laws that further curb freedoms in Hong Kong.

"Carrie Lam's ability and willingness to resist Beijing's hard-line policy will be a challenge for her legitimacy in the eyes of Hong Kong people," said Mr. Sing, an associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The Demosisto party, founded by some of the leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests, said the result Sunday was a "nightmare" for the people of Hong Kong.

"[Ms.] Lam's victory despite her lack of representation and popular support reflects the Chinese Communist Party's complete control over Hong Kong's electoral process and its serious intrusion of Hong Kong's autonomy," the group said in a statement.

Hong Kong activists say China is eroding the promise of autonomy enshrined in a "one country, two systems" agreement sealing the U.K.'s 1997 handover of its former colony.

In 2015, associates of a Hong Kong book store that specialized in gossipy books about Chinese politicians went missing and resurfaced detained in mainland China. One of the booksellers alleged he was whisked from Hong Kong, a violation of the two-system rule.

China has counted on support from Hong Kong elites with deep business ties on the mainland, as well what some call a silent majority of locals who see bucking China as futile and would rather spend their energy earning a living and keeping up with steadily rising property prices.

Write to Chester Yung at chester.yung@wsj.com and John Lyons at john.lyons@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 26, 2017 04:17 ET (08:17 GMT)

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