A small electoral college has begun voting for a new leader of Hong Kong amid accusations that Beijing is meddling and denying the Chinese-ruled financial hub a more populist figurehead better suited to defuse political tension. The majority of the city’s 7.3 million people have no say in deciding their next leader, with the winner chosen by a 1,200-person “election committee” stacked with pro-Beijing and pro-establishment loyalists. Three candidates are running for the post of chief executive on Sunday: two former officials, Carrie Lam and John Tsang, and a retired judge, Woo Kwok-hing. Lam is considered the favourite. Outside the voting centre, there were some scuffles between protesters and police. The protesters denounced Beijing’s “interference” amid widespread reports of lobbying of the voters to back Lam, rather than the more populist and conciliatory former finance chief, Tsang. “Lies, coercion, whitewash,” read one protest banner. “The central government has intervened again and again,” said Carmen Tong, a 20-year-old university student. “It’s very unjust.”
Some democracy activists hung a yellow banner from a peak called Lion Rock, overlooking the city, with the slogan, “I want universal suffrage”.
Security was tight around the harbourfront voting centre, with metal barricades and large numbers of police deployed, and protesters were kept well away from the immediate vicinity.
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, Beijing has gradually increased control over the territory, even though China had promised wide-ranging freedoms and autonomy under the formula of “one country, two systems”, along with an undated promise of universal suffrage.