Chief Executive candidates John Tsang  Chun-wah (left), Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Woo Kwok-hing. Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip
Chief Executive candidates John Tsang Chun-wah (left), Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Woo Kwok-hing. Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip

In a city with seven million residents, of which around four million are eligible voters, a mere 1,194 people get to vote for Hong Kong’s next chief executive, the leader who will run the international financial and shipping hub for the next five years.

This “small-circle election” has all the hallmarks of being designed by committee: arcane and complex, Hong Kong was handed a camel rather than the prize racehorse the city desired. Asia Times provides a simple explainer here to guide you through the confusion.


In 1997, Britain’s 154-year rule ended with an orderly handover to Chinese control and with a promise from Beijing that the city will be allowed to run itself under a special constitutional arrangement known as “one country, two system” for 50 years.

The constitutional document titled Basic Law guarantees the founding of the special administrative region to keep its capitalist economy and a “high-degree of autonomy,” allowing citizens to enjoy freedoms unseen in mainland China, including the right to choose its leader and members of the legislature.


Yet, “one person, one vote” is not specifically enshrined in the Basic Law, which states that the leader can be chosen either through “election” or “consultations” held locally. Universal suffrage is the ultimate aim that had been envisioned, but is far from reality.

Under the current system, candidates who want to run for chief executive must first be screened by a nomination committee.

Read: Wanted – Outstanding candidate to run Asian financial hub…   

The election process

A 1,200-strong Beijing-loyalist-dominated election committee will choose the city’s next leader on March 26, up from the 400 in 1996 when the contest was first held. In a two-stage process, candidates must secure 150 nominations from committee members, then win at least 601 votes from the same group on March 26 to win the election.

It is believed that one candidate is usually secretly endorsed by the central government in Beijing, namely Hong Kong’s two previous leaders Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Media reports have said the anointed one this time is Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the former chief secretary for administration.

Lam, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and retired justice Woo Kwok-hing each secured 150 nominations to reach the second stage, after Beijing surprisingly ordered incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying not to seek re-election last December.

However, in fact only 1,194 people will be voting. Former lawmakers Sixtus Leung Chun-hang and Yau Wai-ching, for example, lost their eligibility after a controversial ban preventing them from taking up their seats. The effective ban was the result of an interpretation of the Basic Law on lawmakers taking oaths. Beijing ruled that if it was not done in accordance with the law, the pair from the Youngspiration political group could not assume office. Both previously ran on a platform that advocated the city’s independence from China.  


This is the first election for the city’s leader since the 79-day Occupy Movement in 2014, where mostly student protesters set up camp on roads, blocking the movement of traffic and demanding full democracy – ie. one person, one vote. Predictably, the central government in Beijing gave no quarter.

Hong Kong society has become more politically polarized since then, with the incumbent leader Leung taking the blame for inciting distrust. The three candidates all pledged to unite society and improve the economy, but will they succeed?