Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

China approved the resignations of two leading government officials in Hong Kong, allowing the duo to run for the top job of the financial hub where citizens increasingly take to the streets to protest what they see as Beijing’s interference in local rule.

Hong Kong’s number two official Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor submitted her resignation on Thursday and would be the first woman to run Hong Kong if she gets the top spot. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah offered his resignation on December 12.

Both have said they plan to run for the position of Hong Kong’s chief executive. The incumbent Leung Chun-ying said in December he wouldn’t run for re-election. Three others have announced they want the job: Retired high court justice Woo Kwok-hing, lawmaker and former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, and a former member of a pro-Beijing party Wu Sai-chuen.

“The central government seems to prefer Carrie Lam to run for the election,” Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the semi-official research institute Chinese Association of Hong Kong-Macau Studies told local media Monday morning.  The reports didn’t say if this was an effective endorsement of Lam by Beijing.

Lam will hold a press conference at 5pm in Hong Kong, according to the Ming Pao Daily.

The five need to secure at least 150 nominations from the 1,200-strong election committee to get their names on the ballot. The committee, dominated by business elites and pro-Beijing loyalists, on March 26 will choose the next chief executive for the city of 7 million residents.

Hong Kong society has become more polarised in the past four years under Leung. In 2014, the former British colony was swept up by street protests during the 79-day Occupy Movement after Beijing proposed changes to Hong Kong’s election system. Critics said the changes allow the Communist Party of China to effectively choose Hong Kong’s leader.

More recently, two pro-independence elected legislators were barred by the courts from taking their seats in the legislature after they made comments seen as anti-China when taking their oaths of office.

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the so-called “one country, two systems” that guaranteed the city a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in wider China.

The next chief executive should “unite Hong Kong people through election, and lead them forward,” Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, told a pro-Beijing magazine last month.