HONG KONG (AP) — A committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites cast ballots Sunday to choose Hong Kong's next leader in the first such vote since 2014's huge pro-democracy protests.
The election committee's 1,194 members voted at a downtown exhibition center, with the city's former No. 2 official Carrie Lam widely expected to win after getting the backing of China's communist leaders. Ballot boxes were being taken to the counting area to be tallied after the morning vote.
Pro-Beijing and pro-democracy groups held competing rallies outside the election venue, and were kept apart by police hundreds of police officers. The pro-democracy crowd chanted "I want genuine democracy," the usual slogan for opponents of the current system.
It was at the root of the 2014 protests that pitted young activists against the city's Beijing-backed government and which ended without resolution, leaving tensions over the city's political reform.
Lam is an efficient and pragmatic administrator but unpopular with Hong Kongers because she's seen as a proxy for Beijing and out of touch with ordinary people.
Her main rival is former finance chief John Tsang, who is highly popular because of his easygoing persona and deft use of social media to connect with residents but who doesn't have Beijing's support.
A third candidate, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, is not expected to have much of a chance either.
The winner will take over from current leader Leung Chun-ying who is not seeking a second term, citing family reasons. Political analysts suspect Beijing asked Leung, a highly polarizing figure, to step aside so that someone better liked can take over.
Members of the Hong Kong's election committee include tycoons like Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest person. They represent industry and trade groups such as finance, accounting, real estate and textiles. Most support China's communist leaders and are expected to vote according to their wishes.
Hong Kong lawmakers, local councilors and delegates to China's parliament also have votes and some 326 seats, mostly in the education, legal, health and social welfare sectors, are held by pro-democracy supporters.