Hong Kong will soon receive a new leader.
Election Day is March 26, but the citizens of Hong Kong will have no say in choosing their next chief executive. A committee of some 1,200 people, most of whom are loyalist to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), will vote on their behalf.
The 2017 election marks the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s post-colonial rule. Hong Kong, a city of 7.3 million people, used to be a British colony. It was handed over to Chinese Communist rule in 1997, though a “one country, two systems” arrangement was promised.
However, the CCP has been increasingly involved in the island’s political process. In 2015, the CCP proposed an electoral reform, in which a direct vote will be allowed, but only for candidates vetted by the CCP. The proposal was rejected. In this year’s election, the pro-CCP committee will cast the votes.
Carrie Lam is expected to be elected despite her lack of popularity.
She is the preferred candidate for the CCP’s Hong Kong Liaison office, and for Politburo standing committee member Zhang Dejiang. Both Zhang and the Liaison office are part of former CCP head Jiang Zemin’s political faction.
Running against her are former Financial Secretary John Tsang, who is the most popular candidate, and Woo Kwok-hing, a former judge.
Lam is slightly more popular than her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, who was also Beijing leaning.
“There is a really strong voice out there on behalf of democracy … she doesn’t have the support among those people, at all,” said David Zweig, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
A source with close ties with Chinese officials said the CCP prefers loyalty over popularity.
If Lam is elected, it may cause more tension and divide in Hong Kong, where in 2014 protesters occupied parts of the city for almost three months calling for political reform. Many Hong Kong citizens are still calling for universal suffrage and more political autonomy.
“Whenever we look back at the times when the democracy movement has been most active, it’s in almost every case been a response to Beijing presenting either a tightening up or some form of democratic process that is highly restrictive,” said Zweig.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping is widely expected, by protocol, to travel to Hong Kong and inaugurate the new chief executive on the anniversary of the 1997 handover on July 1.