Hong Kong's elite heed Beijing, pick Leung leader


HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong's elite elected a former government Cabinet member as the southern Chinese financial hub's next leader on Sunday, heeding Beijing's wishes and public opinion following a tumultuous, bitter race that highlighted public discontent.

Leung Chun-ying was declared the semiautonomous territory's next chief executive by election officials after securing 689 votes from a 1,200-seat committee of business leaders and other elites.

Leung bowed deeply three times to election committee members and others watching the vote after his victory was declared.

Henry Tang, who was seen early on as Beijing's choice before a string of gaffes and scandals torpedoed his already-low approval rating, received 285 votes. Pro-democracy candidate Albert Ho, who had no chance to win, got 76 votes.

Several hundred pro-democracy protesters gathered outside the polling station, but were prevented from entering by police officers manning barricades.

Many committee members were expected to vote according to the wishes of China's leaders. Leung's victory reflects Beijing's efforts in recent days to quietly signal that it was backing off from initial support of the deeply unpopular Tang.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is an unrestrained global capital of commerce with Western-style rights and freedoms not seen on the mainland. But it has never had full democracy, and Hong Kong's 7.1 million residents had no say in the election.

The tumultuous race has heightened many Hong Kongers' desire to directly elect their leader, which Beijing has promised could happen as early as 2017, although no road map has been laid out.

Tang, the son of a wealthy businessman and former financial secretary with a reputation as a wine-loving playboy, was never popular with ordinary Hong Kong residents.

His scandals added to wider public discontent, driven by a yawning rich-poor gap and sky-high housing prices that have stirred resentment of the city's billionaires, who control Hong Kong's economy and vast real estate empires, and their perceived close ties with the government.