Hong Kong elites heed Beijing, pick Leung leader

Associated Press
Protesters display a poster of three candidates, from right, former convener of Hong Kong's Executive Council, Leung Chun-ying,  Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho and Former Hong Kong Chief Secretary Henry Tang during a demonstration against Beijing's involvement in Hong Kong's chief executive election outside a polling station in Hong Kong, Sunday, March 25, 2012. Hong Kong's elite voted Sunday to choose the city's next leader following a tumultuous, bitter race that highlighted public discontent in the southern Chinese financial hub. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's elite have elected a former government Cabinet member as the city's next leader, heeding Beijing's wishes and public opinion.

Leung Chun-ying secured 689 votes from the 1,200-seat committee of business leaders and other elites in voting on Sunday.

Ordinary Hong Kongers had no say. Committee members were expected to vote according to the wishes of China's leaders. Leung's victory reflects Beijing's efforts in recent days to quietly signal that it was backing off from initial support of deeply unpopular rival Henry Tang.

Tang was the early front-runner, but a string of gaffes and scandals torpedoed his chances. He received 285 votes. Pro-democracy candidate Albert Ho, who had no chance, got 76 votes.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's elite voted Sunday for the city's next leader following a tumultuous, bitter race that highlighted public discontent in the southern Chinese financial hub.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is an unrestrained global capital of commerce with Western-style rights and freedoms not seen on the mainland. But it has never had full democracy, and Hong Kong's 7.1 million residents have no say in who becomes the next chief executive of the semiautonomous territory.

That decision was up to members of a 1,200-seat committee made up of tycoons and other elites. Many were expected to vote according to the wishes of China's communist leaders in Beijing, who had quietly signaled in the days before the election that they were backing away from their scandal-plagued, deeply unpopular first choice in favor of his rival.

In a first, the race featured more than one candidate seen as acceptable to Beijing. The result has been a raucous, bitter affair punctuated with mudslinging and muckraking, in sharp contrast to previous Hong Kong leadership transitions that were dull, tightly scripted affairs with prearranged outcomes.

The man seen early on as having Beijing's backing, Henry Tang, is the son of a wealthy businessman and former financial secretary with a reputation as a wine-loving playboy. He was never popular with ordinary Hong Kongers and his approval rating sank even lower after a series of scandals and gaffes.

The scandals added to wider public discontent, driven by a yawning rich-poor gap and sky-high housing prices that have stirred resentment of the city's billionaires, who control Hong Kong's economy and vast real estate empires, and their perceived close ties with the government.

Rival Leung Chun-ying, a former government Cabinet member, has also had his share of controversies. A third candidate, Albert Ho of the pro-democratic camp, had no chance.

The tumultuous race has heightened many Hong Kongers' desire to directly elect their leader, which Beijing has promised could happen as early as 2017, although no road map has been laid out.

Several hundred protesters gathered Sunday outside the polling station chanting slogans in favor of universal suffrage and urging committee members to cast blank ballots.

Legislator Alan Leong told reporters that he and other members of the pro-democracy camp were urging voters to "cast blank votes and bring about an abortion of this election."

In a mock poll Friday and Saturday open to all residents, about 55 percent of the 222,990 votes cast were blank, according to local media reports, a sign of widespread dissatisfaction with all three candidates.

The winner needs a majority of at least 601 votes from the committee, which has 1,193 members and seven vacant seats. There's a chance no one will get enough votes, requiring a run-off in May — an outcome Beijing hopes to avoid because it would be seen as having lost control of the city.

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