HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s next leader, selected Sunday by a conclave of mostly pro-Beijing elites, pledged not to tamper with the extensive liberties of this freewheeling former British colony and tried to calm concern that he is too beholden to China’s authoritarian Communist Party.
“I make a solemn promise . . . that the freedoms and rights enjoyed today by the people of Hong Kong will absolutely not be changed at all,” said Leung Chun-ying, a 57-year-old land surveyor who, strongly backed by China, will take office in July as Hong Kong’s new chief executive, the post-colonial version of governor.
But in a sign of the troubles Leung is likely to face soothing the anger created by an ill-tempered and undemocratic contest, his remarks at a victory news conference were syncopated by the chants of protesters gathered outside the venue of Sunday’s ballot by 1,132 grandees.
Albert Ho, a losing candidate who represented Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, denounced the selection process as “ugly and disgusting” and warned of “dark days” ahead. Even some generally pro-establishment groups such as the pro-business Liberal Party voiced alarm over the outcome of an often unruly race that featured feuding tycoons, dark rumors of closet communism and a host of scandals over sex, gangsters and an illegal wine cellar.
The off-script tumult of an “election” in which fewer than 0.02 percent of Hong Kong’s 7.1 million people got to vote has strengthened a widespread feeling here that this sophisticated and prosperous city needs real elections as it struggles to find its identity as part of China and tackle a growing gap between the rich and the poor. A popular vote for chief executive is supposed to be held in 2017.
Leung, the son of a colonial-era policeman, is a populist on economic issues but a tough political operator with close ties to China and a reputation for intolerance of protests. In Sunday’s vote at a convention center overlooking Victoria Harbor, Leung, who is widely known as CY, won 689 votes of 1,132 cast by members of an Election Committee stacked with multimillionaires and Beijing loyalists. That was enough to get him the top government post but was a far more tepid endorsement than that received by two previous chief executives.
“CY will face a tough job trying heal the rift” created by a divisive campaign, Regina Ip, a politician expected to take a senior position in the new government, said in an interview Sunday evening on Hong Kong television.
An online poll conducted Saturday by Hong Kong University — in which nearly 223,000 people took part — suggested that neither Leung nor his main rival, former senior civil servant Henry Tang, has much popular support: 54 percent of those who voted chose none of the listed candidates. (Leung got just 17 percent of the online vote, ahead of Tang at 16 percent.) Unidentified hackers tried to sabotage the poll, which media in Hong Kong controlled by the Chinese Communist Party had denounced as a “political conspiracy” by anti-China “black hands.”