Ting Ting Ng, Bloomberg
Hong Kong: Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang won five more years in office from the territory’s election committee today, defeating a challenger for the first time since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.
Tsang, 62, won 649 votes out of 777 votes cast by the China-backed committee. His opponent Alan Leong got 123 votes. Five votes were invalid because they were improperly stamped.
“This election laid out a solid foundation for moving toward universal suffrage,” Tsang said in a victory speech. “In a modest way, we have made history.”
During the seven-week campaign, both candidates pledged greater democracy for Hong Kong. Tsang said he would announce political reform plans this year, while Leong promised direct elections for the chief executive in 2012.
Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the constitution that took effect when China regained sovereignty in 1997, mandates progress toward democracy, which it calls universal suffrage, without giving a timeframe. National political leaders in Beijing have warned that the city could lose its status as a global financial centre if its people spend too much time on politics.
Despite the fact that a committee of 795 members made the decision, Tsang and Leong wooed the support of Hong Kong’s 6.9 million population with rallies and two televised debates.
“Even though only a few people could vote, the election set an example for candidates in the future,” said Ivan Choi, a senior instructor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Government and Public Administration. “They will have to do TV debates and district visits.”
More than half the seats on Hong Kong’s Election Committee are filled through allotments of seats to specific industries and professions. Religious groups also choose delegates, and the 60 members of the Legislative Council, the local parliament, have guaranteed seats.
Tsang won the job unopposed two years ago after his predecessor Tung Chee-Hwa quit following widespread street protests over a series of unpopular decisions. About 500,000 marched on 1 July 2003, calling for full democracy. A similar number marched the following year.
Public discontent has fallen since Tsang took over, helped by the economy’s longest winning streak since the handover in 1997, with a 6.8% growth last year bringing the jobless rate to an eight-year low. A pro-democracy march last week attracted just 1,800, according to the police.
The government announced HK$19 billion (Rs82,878 crore) of tax cuts and waivers in its annual budget 28 February, and Tsang pledged to cut the standard rate of salaries and profit tax to 15% if re-elected.
The career civil servant said his long-term goal is to preserve Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s top financial center. As the city’s financial secretary in 1998, he led the government in spending HK$118 billion to defend the Hong Kong dollar’s peg against attack from hedge funds.
Married with two children, Tsang is a Catholic who was knighted by the British government. His sister Katherine is chief executive of Standard Chartered Plc’s China business while his younger brother, Yam-pui, retired in 2003 as Hong Kong’s police commissioner.
Leong, 49, has said that his campaign forced the government to address issues such as pollution, which Tsang has played down, and raised awareness of the need for full democracy in the city.
Tsang, who headed a government committee on constitutional development before becoming chief executive, will issue proposals for public consultation this year, and said he will “resolve” Hong Kong’s universal suffrage issue within his term.