Tsang Re-Elected as Hong Kong's Leader

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 25, 2007; 7:48 AM

HONG KONG, March 25 -- Donald Tsang easily won re-election to another five-year term as Hong Kong's chief executive Sunday in voting restricted to a Chinese-approved electoral body.

Tsang defeated his challenger, Alan Leong, with 649 out of the 772 valid votes cast by the business and professional leaders who make up what Leong and his supporters denounced as a "closed circle" of electors during several weeks of electioneering.

The campaign, although its outcome was a foregone conclusion, provided a platform for Leong to push his campaign for direct elections for Hong Kong's 7 million residents in 2012, when a new chief executive and 30-member Legislative Council will be chosen simultaneously.

China, which resumed rule over Hong Kong after the British colonial administration left in 1997, has said the time is not yet ripe for the special administrative region to enjoy the full voting rights promised by the departing British.

During the run-up to the vote, as Canto-pop music blared and Chief Executive Donald Tsang waved from the stage to a cheering crowd of supporters, it was easy to imagine that he was really campaigning for reelection as Hong Kong's leader.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule 10 years ago in July, has been enjoying the trappings of electoral democracy for weeks, with televised debates, dueling platforms and rallies such as the one Tsang's backers organized Friday night in a pocket park tucked among the skyscrapers. The experience, Tsang told his boisterous followers, has been "a wonderful journey."

But the journey, which ended with voting Sunday, led nowhere that Hong Kong has not already been. Sunday's ballots were cast by carefully chosen electors. The outcome has been known for months, dictated in large measure by the Communist Party leadership in Beijing: Tsang, 62, a veteran civil servant, would get a five-year assignment to continue managing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and its uneasy relationship with the Chinese government.

The promise of genuine democracy bequeathed by the departing British -- direct election of the chief executive and Legislative Council -- has been pushed off to an undefined horizon for Hong Kong. The promise still holds eventually, Beijing's rulers have said, but we will let you know when the time is ripe.

The Chinese blocking move, announced nearly three years ago, took the wind out of what had been a swelling political movement here agitating for swift implementation of the British promise. By imposing an indefinite delay, it undermined hopes that Hong Kong's "one country-two systems" arrangement could become a model for Taiwan under mainland rule -- and perhaps even a beacon to guide China itself toward a more democratic system.

Against that background, when Leong set off early this year to run against Tsang for chief executive, it seemed a quixotic gesture. Leong, 49, a polished lawyer, legislator and head of the pro-democracy Civic Party, was an established leader in the reform camp, but, along with everyone else, he knew he could not win.

By calling in chits, however, Leong won enough nominations in the electoral college to get himself on the ballot. With Tsang playing along in what became a popularity contest, he campaigned for weeks as if the election were not a foregone conclusion.

"Obviously, I'm not in this to win, at least not this time," Leong said in an interview in his wood-paneled law offices just off the harbor. "But I hope, with the help of the Hong Kong people, to set up a system for the next time to have a proper election."

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