Chosen ones to select leader in HK

The process for the "election" of Hong Kong's first Chief Executive, who will head the post-colonial government, is disintegrating into farce following the selection of the 400 members of the committee who will "elect" him.

The committee excludes all but a couple of mild critics of Chinese policy and gives overwhelming representation to pro-Peking parties, largely shunned by the electorate.

The majority of members are businessmen, including most of the colony's leading tycoons, some of whom have been selected in the category for "grass- roots" representatives. A number of the businessmen have criminal convictions.

China says the election procedure marks a new era in Hong Kong, replacing the British practice of high-handedly appointing a governor in London. This cannot be challenged, but critics, such as the Democratic Party legislator Yeung Sum, say the consultation is no more than the workings of a small inner circle who are impervious to popular opinion.

Chen Ziyang, a Chinese official responsible for Hong Kong affairs, insisted that the committee was broadly based. Speaking in Peking he said: "We have managed to have the representation of different levels of society in the different stages of the election process."

Names were put down for membership of the committee by 5,700 members of the Hong Kong public. The presidium of the Preparatory Committee, the Sino-Hong Kong body preparing for the change of sovereignty, whittled the list down to 409, of whom the full membership of the Preparatory Committee was allowed to vote for 340.

The other 60 were drawn from members of Chinese parliamentary bodies, including the influential businessman Tsang Hin-chi who has two criminal convictions. Another committee member is the flamboyant legislator and stockbroker Chim Pui-chung, who faces charges of forgery and fraud.

Among those who were not selected is the most prominent business leader with British connections, Linus Cheung, who heads a subsidiary of Cable and Wireless. David Akers-Jones, a former chief secretary in the Hong Kong government and a vocal critic of Governor Chris Patten, is among a clutch of foreigners allowed to join the committee. In an indirect attack on the process, Mr Patten called on China to treat Hong Kong people like grown-ups.

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