Hong Kong election: Beijing-backed Lam first female leader

Media captionHong Kong’s three candidate: the nanny, Mr Pringles or the judge?

Carrie Lam has been elected as Hong Kong’s new leader – the first woman to hold the top job.

Mrs Lam, 59, had the backing of the Chinese government in Beijing and was widely expected to win.

Hong Kong has a degree of autonomy from Beijing but protests have been growing over Chinese interference.

The chief executive is not chosen by public vote but by a 1,200-strong committee dominated by pro-Beijing electors.

Pro-democracy groups held protests outside the election venue, calling the process a sham.

In her acceptance speech, Mrs Lam said her first priority during her five-year term would be to reduce social tensions.

She said she welcomed and encouraged a spectrum of voices and vowed to “tap the forces of our young people”.

“They are often at the forefront of society, pulling and pushing us as a whole to make progress.”

Mrs Lam also promised to uphold Hong Kong’s “core values” such as “inclusiveness, freedoms of the press and of speech, respect for human rights” and the rule of law.

Carrie Lam faces uphill battle

Carrie Lam, freshly elected as Hong Kong's chief executive, 26 March 2017Image copyrightEPA
Image captionCarrie Lam celebrated victory and then faced the press

Mrs Lam’s main rival, former finance chief John Tsang, was the public’s favourite, according to opinion polls.

The third candidate, and the most liberal, was retired judge Woo Kwok-hing.

Mrs Lam garnered 777 votes to Mr Tsang’s 365. Mr Woo received 21.

Calls for fully free elections have failed, despite intense demonstrations, known as the “umbrella protests”, in 2014.

Hong Kong’s Election Committee picked Mrs Lam to succeed current leader CY Leung, who will step down in July. She was formerly his deputy.

Mrs Lam, a long-time civil servant, is nicknamed the nanny because of her background running numerous government projects.

During the 2014 protests, which were spearheaded by young people, she took the unpopular stance of defending Beijing’s concessions for political reform.

This allowed Hong Kong people to choose their leader but only from pre-approved candidates.

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong (centre) at protests on election day in Hong KongImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionPro-democracy activist Joshua Wong (centre) at protests on election day

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was among those protesting and was a lead figure in the umbrella movement, has called the electoral process “a selection rather than an election”.

When the result was announced, he tweeted that Mrs Lam had been elected with “only 777 votes”.

On Facebook, an online protest was launched called No Election in Hong Kong Now, which showed a video montage of regular citizens going about their business as the election took place to highlight how they were not entitled to participate.

Hong Kong leadership candidates Woo Kwok-hing, Carrie Lam and John TsangImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionCandidates Woo Kwok-hing, Carrie Lam and John Tsang pose as they greet election committee members on Sunday

Mr Leung has proved unpopular with large swathes of Hong Kong residents who consider him too tightly aligned to Beijing.

At the end of the 2016, he made the unexpected announcement that he would not run again, citing family reasons.

Hong Kong's outgoing leader CY LeungImage copyrightAFP / GETTY IMAGES
Image captionOutgoing leader CY Leung was elected in 2012 and, unusually, only served one term

Hong Kong is governed under the principle of “one country, two systems”, under which China has agreed to give the region semi-autonomous status since its 1997 handover from Britain.

The Election Committee includes 70 members of the territory’s legislature, the Legislative Council – half of whom are directly elected.

However, most of the Election Committee is chosen by business, professional or special interest groups.

Critics say entities that lean towards Beijing are given disproportionately large representation.

Last year, pro-democracy activists secured 325 seats on the committee – the highest number ever, but not enough seats to determine the next chief executive.

Protesters clash with riot police on September 28, 2014 in Hong KongImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe 2014 “umbrella protests” were so-called after protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray fired by police

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