Carrie Lam elected Hong Kong chief executive

Carrie Lam elected Hong Kong chief executive
PHOTO: AFP

She wins by landslide with 777 votes, promises to unite divided society

HONG KONG - Beijing favourite Carrie Lam was selected as Hong Kong's new leader yesterday by a mainly pro-China committee, in an election dismissed as a sham by democracy activists who fear the loss of the city's cherished freedoms.

It is the first leadership vote since mass Umbrella Movement rallies calling for free elections in 2014 failed to win reforms, and it comes after a turbulent term under outgoing chief executive Leung ChunYing.

Mr Leung, seen by opponents as a Beijing puppet, will step down in July after five years.

Hong Kong is semi-autonomous and has been governed under a "one country, two systems" deal since it was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain in 1997.

But 20 years on, there are serious concerns that Beijing is disregarding the handover agreement designed to protect Hong Kong's way of life.

Around three quarters of the 1,194 members of the election committee were from the mainland camp.

An emotional Ms Lam bowed to supporters as it was announced she had won comprehensively with 777 votes against 365 for her more moderate establishment rival John Tsang.

The third and most liberal candidate, Mr Woo Kwok Hing, received just 21 votes.

"The work of uniting our society to move forward begins now," Ms Lam said in a speech, vowing to lead Hong Kong forward in solidarity.

Frustration at what activists see as China's increasing influence and a lack of promised political reform have sparked calls for self-determination for Hong Kong or even a complete split from China.

Ms Lam, who was widely seen as Beijing's pick for the job, will become Hong Kong's first woman chief executive.

She is intensely disliked by the pro-democracy camp after promoting the Beijing-backed reform package that sparked 2014's massive protests.

That plan said the public could choose the city's leader this year, but insisted the candidates must be vetted first.

It was eventually voted down in Parliament by pro-democracy lawmakers and reforms have been shelved ever since.

PROTESTERS

Hundreds of protesters gathered near the voting venue, chanting: "Oppose central authority appointment, we choose our own government!"

Ms Lam will face an uphill struggle to unite a city in which young people, in particular, have lost faith in the political system and their overall prospects.

With salaries too low to meet the cost of property in an overpriced market fuelled by mainland money, getting ahead in life is seen as increasingly difficult.

Ms Lam said she will try to build consensus by focusing on social issues, including poverty and housing.

But critics said she is dodging the bigger political questions and will pave the way for Beijing to extend its influence.

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