HONG KONG [2nd UPDATE] – Former government adviser and property consultant Leung Chun-ying won Hong Kong’s leadership election on Sunday, after the most divisive vote since the city reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Leung, 57, will replace outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang in July after winning 689 of the votes from the 1,200-strong election committee that chooses the southern Chinese city’s leader, according to an official count.
He promised to “reunite” Hong Kong and protect its “rights and freedoms” following an unprecedented election which split the city’s establishment camp and forced Beijing to heed popular opinion as never before.
“Now that the contest is over it is time to reunite,” Leung said in a victory speech in which he reaffirmed election promises to bring change while maintaining stability.
“With one heart and one vision we can turn Hong Kong into a more prosperous, more righteous and more progressive society,” he said, acknowledging “deep-rooted problems” such as high property prices and a yawning wealth gap.
He also pledged to “pave the way for enhanced democracy with an open and fair election system” in 2017, when Beijing has promised all citizens will be entitled to vote for chief executive from a vetted group of candidates.
Leung’s main rival, Henry Tang, finished with 285 votes and pro-democracy candidate Albert Ho on 76, officials said.
Thousands of protesters rallied outside the harborside convention centre where the vote took place, demanding full democracy in the semi-autonomous former British colony.
The protests, which could be heard inside the tally room, were noisy but generally peaceful. Some tried to force their way into the convention centre but were held back by police.
No support from tycoons, Beijing
Leung’s humble origins as a policeman’s son stand in stark contrast to Tang’s background as heir to a textile fortune, but both men are considered pro-Beijing, establishment figures.
Leung carved out a fortune from real estate before entering politics as a relative outsider.
Born in 1954, he is known as a self-made property consultant and, most recently, as the soft-spoken convener of the Executive Council, the city’s top policy-making body.
The election committee is packed with mainly pro-Beijing members of the business and political elite, leading to anger among ordinary Hong Kongers about the lack of a transparent and open election process.
The vast majority of Hong Kong’s 7 million residents are excluded from the “small circle” poll, carried out according to the One Country, Two Systems arrangement in place since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Leung was considered an outsider at the start of the race, with insufficient experience of business and government and too little support from the city’s tycoons to win Beijing’s express backing.
Tang, 59, was initially seen as Beijing’s choice but his campaign faltered in a series of scandals, including the discovery of a huge illegal entertainment suite in his home and an admission of marital infidelity.
His popular approval ratings, while never high, plunged and his wealthy backers were forced to reconsider their positions, leading to an unprecedented split in the establishment camp.
Outgoing leader Tsang and his predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, the city’s first post-handover leader, were by contrast elected virtually unopposed after receiving the clear backing of Beijing.
Committee members such as Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and property tycoon Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong were mobbed by reporters and harassed by protesters as they arrived to cast their ballots.
Activists shouted slogans such as “Get rid of small-circle”, “Give us direct elections” and “Don’t vote, don’t vote.”
Radical lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung arrived in a yellow emperor suit, a pig-wolf mask and holding a papier-mache Chinese tank, shouting “I am the king and kingmaker,” in a theatrical parody of the election process.
The 2012 election has been complicated by the behind-the-scenes machinations of mainland China’s own once-in-a-decade leadership struggle, with various factions seeking to flex their muscles ahead of the transition later this year.
Allan Zeman, a colourful German-born committee member and chairman of the Ocean Park tourist attraction, said he would support Leung while “looking forward to 2017 when everyone can vote.”
“This is a very, very difficult election which we have never seen before… It’s important for CY (Leung) that if he wins, he will be able to pull everyone together,” he told reporters.
An unofficial popular election, organized by the University of Hong Kong and held online and at 17 mobile polling booths, saw 54% of more than 220,000 voters cast blank ballots, rejecting all the candidates.
Police reportedly arrested 2 people in connection with an attempt to hack the website and bring down its servers. – Agence France-Presse