Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam says leadership election to go ahead as planned

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HONG KONG, April 2 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leadership election will go ahead on May 8 as planned, city Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Saturday, rejecting media speculation it might be delayed for a second time due to a major COVID-19 outbreak.

Unlike previous years, no Beijing-backed front-runner for the top job has emerged at this late stage, adding to uncertainty about the financial hub’s future as Beijing imposes its rule.

Since the former British colony returned to China in 1997, it has had four chief executives, all of whom struggled to balance the democratic aspirations of some residents with the vision of China’s Communist Party leaders.

In a briefing to reporters, Lam repeatedly declined to confirm whether she would seek a second five-year term, but said the election arrangements remained the same despite media reports Beijing would push it back until next year.

The nomination period will start on Sunday, “and the election will be held on May 8,” Lam said.

The government’s heavily criticised handling of a dramatic COVID spike in recent months – after the success of the city’s “zero-COVID” tactics for much of the pandemic – has been blamed on the embattled Lam, which some critics say has undermined her chances.

A 1,500-member election committee stacked with Beijing loyalists will choose the chief executive, with all candidates having to secure sufficient backing from these members in the nomination period running through April 16.

The election had been due to be held on March 27 but was pushed back till May 8 to allow time for the government to battle the COVID outbreak that has seen over one million of the city’s 7.4 million people infected.

Lam skirted several questions on whether she had held an emergency meeting on Friday with a senior Chinese leader, Xia Baolong on the electoral arrangements, saying some diary appointments were a private matter.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by William Mallard)

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