Hong Kong's leadership race heats up

The electoral race for Hong Kong's next leader is off and running, after unpopular chief executive Leung Chun Ying said he would step down next year.

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Competition is heating up for what is one of the trickiest leadership posts on the planet.

Hong Kong's next Chief Executive will be elected by a select group of 1,200 people to lead a city with strong pro-democracy leanings - but that's ruled by communist China.

Hong Kong largely rejoiced last weekend when unpopular leader CY Leung said he would step down next year. For the past four years, he's helped Beijing tread all over this city's autonomy and prized institutions - like its independent courts.

He also struck down the student-led pro-democracy protests in 2014 - casting them as a part of a foreign subversive plot. Now his successor will have to find a way to again earn the public's trust.

Likely stepping into the fray, John Tsang, a career long civil servant who on Monday stepped down from his role as financial secretary. He's generally viewed as less of a hardliner, more in touch with the public - and business friendly.

But pundits are saying CY Leung's deputy - Cary Lam - is Beijing's top choice. Her live TV debate with pro-democracy activists two years ago - one example of her clear willingness to tow the party line.

Several other contenders are throwing their hat in the ring as Hong Kong leads up to both a change in leadership and the psychologically important 20th anniversary of its handover from British to Chinese rule.

Pro-democracy groups have won more than a quarter of the seats on the election committee. That's a record gain - but they're still vastly outnumbered by China loyalists.

And ultimately, whoever gets appointed to the point of Chief Executive - will have to get the final nod of approval from Beijing.