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WhyItMatters

Hong Kong leader's balancing act

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying's surprise announcement that he would not seek a second term looks to have prompted the city's No. 2 and No. 3 officials to consider contesting the top job in Hong Kong, but whoever takes the hot seat will have to win over both Beijing and the Hong Kong public.

While this has always been required of the semi-autonomous city's top official, the job has become harder given the city's increasingly polarised politics, as underlined by the rise of pro-independence politicians.

Mr Leung had previously hinted that he was keen to serve a second term. Given this, his withdrawal last week citing family reasons fuelled speculation that he had been "shown the red light" by Beijing.

If this is indeed the case, it underlines how Beijing would prefer a top official who is more palatable to the Hong Kong people and is a less divisive figure.

After all, under Mr Leung's administration, the city saw one of its biggest protests - the 2014 Umbrella Revolution - and violent clashes between police and the public during the Mongkok riot this year.

 
 

Analysts say Mr Leung, or CY as he is known, is unpopular as he is seen to please Beijing at the expense of Hong Kongers.

He has become so unpopular that some opposition politicians have rallied around the ABC banner - Anyone But CY.

With Mr Leung out, it looks like the city's No. 2 and No. 3 officials will throw their hats into the ring.

The contender seen as most appealing to Beijing is Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, 59, a career civil servant who is No. 2 to Mr Leung. The No. 3 official, Financial Secretary John Tsang, 65, who quit his job on Monday, has previously topped popularity polls.

Other possible contenders are retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70, former security chief and lawmaker Regina Ip, 66, and former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang, 69.

No matter who wins the race on March 26, he or she has to walk on the "one country, two systems" tightrope and try not to fall.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'HK leader's balancing act'. Print Edition | Subscribe