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Hong Kong elects Carrie Lam as new chief executive

Sydney Morning Herald - March 27, 2017

Kirsty Needham Beijing's preferred candidate, Carrie Lam, was selected by an elite group of voters to become the fourth chief executive of Hong Kong on Sunday.

Only 1194 members of the Election Committee cast ballots, under Hong Kong's Basic Law.

They had a choice of just three candidates: Ms Lam, the former chief secretary of Hong Kong, its former financial secretary John Tsang and retired judge Woo Kowk-hing. All had been pre-vetted by Beijing.

Ms Lam, 59, the first woman to take the top job, had said she would try to heal divisions within Hong Kong society.

There were bitter clashes between her predecessor Chin-ying Leung and the pro-democracy movement that exploded in 2014, as street protests brought central Hong Kong to a standstill for two months.

The Umbrella movement, led by young students, had called for free elections for a chief executive by 2017, as promised in 1997 when the former British colony has handed back to China. Beijing refused, instead insisting it pre-vet candidates.

In a speech on Sunday Ms Lam said: "I too want more democracy in Hong Kong. But Hong Kong is facing a lot of problems. Why don't we start with the easier subjects?"

She pledged to rebuild social unity "step by step". "Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a lot of divisiveness" she said.

Opinion polls had earlier shown Mr Tsang well ahead of Ms Lam in popularity. The South China Morning Post reported on Sunday that Mr Tsang received 300 votes from a block of pro-democracy committee members.

However, at least 601 votes were needed to win, and Ms Lam was supported by the business community. Hong Kong media showed prominent business leaders, including its richest man Li Ka-shing and his son Richard Li, attending the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre to vote on Sunday.

Other voters included 70 members of Parliament and social worker, agriculture and fisheries groups. Beijing loyalists were said to control two-thirds of the vote.

Outgoing chief executive Mr Leung said at the Boao Forum in China last week that popularity was not the only consideration in choosing a Hong Kong chief executive.

"If the central government does not trust the chief executive, the place he or she is to run can hardly enjoy a high degree of autonomy," the South China Morning Post quoted him as saying. He steps down as chief executive in July.

On social media, photographs circulated of a red banner placed by pro-democracy activists on Hong Kong's Lion Rock, reading "I want genuine universal suffrage". Pro-Beijing supporters were also on the streets.

It was Hong Kong's sixth chief executive election since the handover of the former British territory to China. Ms Lam will serve for five years.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told the annual sitting of the mainland's rubber stamp Parliament a fortnight ago that "one country, two systems" control of Hong Kong would be steadfastly applied "without being bent or distorted... The notion of independence will lead nowhere".

During the meeting, Mr Leung was appointed vice chairman of the mainland's Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

BBC television coverage of the Hong Kong election had been censored in hotels in mainland China.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/hong-kong-elects-carrie-lam-as-new-chief-executive-20170326-gv6nz5.html.

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