By James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong picked a Beijing-loyalist and businessman, Leung Chun-ying, as its next leader on Sunday following a scandal-ridden election race that sparked protests and intensified public frustration about a lack of democracy.
Leung, 57, is a self-made surveyor, former senior Hong Kong government adviser and known as a suave, and at times ruthless, political operator with close ties to China's Communist party.
A high-flying member of Hong Kong's elite, Leung forged a business career in property surveying before playing an important mediating role between China and Britain during negotiations leading up to the city's handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Dubbed the "wolf" for what some describe as his steely edge, the tall, trim Leung has been labeled a secret Communist Party cadre -- an accusation he denies -- by some of staunchly capitalist Hong Kong's media and politicians.
"That the Communist Party Central Committee agreed to choose an underground party member as the chief executive is all too clear," said Florence Leung, a former party cadre who published a book on Hong Kong's underground Communist movement.
But Leung, in his first public comments following his victory, sought to put such talk to rest.
"I am not a member of the Communist Party. I am not a so-called underground member of the Communist Party. In fact, I'm not a member, and have not been a member of any political party anywhere in the world," he said.
Initially considered the underdog, Leung staged a late charge as early front runner Henry Tang's campaign sagged over scandal, including one over a love fair and another involving illegal construction at a family villa.
The seven million people of Hong Kong have no say in their choice of leader. Instead, Leung was selected by an elite 1,200-member election committee filled with Beijing loyalists, among them tycoons and business professionals.
Few people expected a Leung victory but as Tang floundered, officials in Beijing's Hong Kong Liaison office, particularly more leftist factions, apparently lobbied the election committee to back Leung, according to media reports.
"POLITICALLY CONSERVATIVE, HARDLINE"
Leung faces a legislative investigation into a conflict of interest related to a multi-billion dollar arts hub in the city.
During a campaign debate, Tang accused Leung of proposing the use of riot police and teargas to quell a protest in 2003 over proposed anti-subversion laws that many feared would erode liberties.
Many are apprehensive about his image as a hardliner.
"The situation will be very tough. Many people do not like his top-down management style and his deviation from the core values of Hong Kong," said Dixon Sing, a political scientist. "He has been extremely politically conservative and hardline."
In 2010, Leung was asked whether he supported the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. He replied that China's former paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, should have been the first Chinese to win the award.
The son of a policeman, Leung studied Estate Management at Bristol Polytechnic in Britain. He went into real estate and was chairman of property brokerage firm DTZ's Asian arm before he resigned in November to run for Hong Kong leader.
He campaigned on a "one heart, one vision" populist agenda, pledging land for cheaper public housing and greater welfare.
Leung was made the head of the Basic Law Consultative Committee of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, when he was just 34. He later became a member of China's powerful preparatory committee, which oversaw Hong Kong's transition.
A father of three, Leung is a member of China's leading political consultative body and was once convener of Hong Kong's Executive Council, the city's highest policy-making body.
"To the seven million people, I solemnly pledge that after I take office, the freedoms and rights that they enjoy will be maintained under my administration," he said on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Sisi Tang; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Robert Birsel)