Hong Kong's No. 2 official Carrie Lam has formally resigned as Chief Secretary and announced her intention to run for the city's top job.
The 59-year-old career civil servant, who is seen as Beijing's preferred candidate for Chief Executive, made the announcement in a press conference lasting less than five minutes yesterday.
She told reporters: "I told the Chief Executive in my resignation letter that there is only one reason for me to resign. If my resignation is approved by the Central People's Government, I intend to prepare to contest in the upcoming Chief Executive election."
She thanked incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying and his predecessors for their support and said she will announce her next step if and when her resignation is approved. She then left hurriedly without answering any questions.
Mrs Lam is the city's second top official to resign within a month, ending months of speculation on whether she would contest the Chief Executive election in March.
Exactly a month ago, on Dec 12, Financial Secretary John Tsang, 65, tendered his resignation, but he is still waiting for Beijing to approve his resignation before he can announce his candidacy.
Both Mrs Lam and Mr Tsang are seen to be pro-Beijing.
Another pro-Beijing heavyweight Regina Ip, 66, launched her campaign last month. Another contender is retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70, who announced his candidacy last October. Former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang, 69, has also shown interest in the post.
There are reports that Mrs Lam has picked former Hong Kong stock exchange chairman Ronald Arculli as her campaign manager, which analysts say could help her gain support from the business elite.
Analysts said that the timing of her resignation, which came before Beijing has responded to Mr John Tsang's resignation, could mean that she has the blessing of Beijing to lead Hong Kong.
Most signs seem to be pointing that way, political analyst Willy Lam noted.
With Mrs Lam's track record in handling tough situations - she held talks during the Umbrella Revolution in 2014 with student leaders who wanted direct election of the city's Chief Executive by 2017, and pushed for the constitutional reform package the same year - she is seen as Beijing's preferred candidate, said Dr Lam.
But in the last few weeks, she has been embroiled in a controversy over a move to build the Hong Kong Palace Museum without first consulting the public, suffering a drop in popularity.
In a poll commissioned by the South China Morning Post and conducted by the Chinese University's Centre for Communication and Public Opinion between Jan 4 and 10, 23.2 per cent of 1,024 respondents picked Mrs Lam as their preferred city leader. This was down from 23.9 per cent in a survey conducted by the same centre last month.
Mrs Lam and Mr John Tsang are running almost neck and neck, with the latter scoring 27.6 per cent - 4.4 percentage points more than Mrs Lam - in the January poll.
Mr Jasper Tsang had the lowest score with just 7.9 per cent, while Mrs Ip scored 9.7 per cent, and Mr Woo, 12.6 per cent.
Asked who has the highest chance of winning the election, almost half of the respondents picked Mrs Lam, compared with 19.9 per cent for Mr John Tsang.
On March 26, 1,194 members of an election committee will choose Hong Kong's next Chief Executive - who will have the challenge of leading a city that is facing increasingly polarised politics, as underlined by the rise of pro-independence politicians.