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Hong Kong Prepares for Election of Chief Executive

Hong Kong is witnessing its first competitive selection process for the territory's leader -- 10 years after Britain handed back the colony to Chinese sovereignty. The campaign for chief executive pits a pro-democracy lawmaker against the Beijing-backed incumbent. Some democracy activists consider it a small yet crucial step toward achieving universal suffrage in the autonomous Chinese territory. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Alan Leong takes his campaign to be Hong Kong's next leader to the streets.

He is challenging this man: incumbent Chief Executive Donald Tsang.

Hong Kong's seven million people cannot vote directly for the city's top official. An elite 800-member election committee of industry leaders and politicians approved by China's communist central government decides for them.

A career civil servant, Tsang already has the support of a majority of the election committee and Beijing. He is expected to be chosen by a huge majority. "I am happy to announce that I have secured 641 nominations from election committee members."

Some democracy activists in Hong Kong slammed Leong and his democratic alliance for participating in what they say is a sham process.

But Leong says his candidacy is a crucial step toward the goal of universal suffrage. "This is the first time ever since the reversal of sovereignty in 1997 that a democratically elected legislative councilor can challenge the incumbent who has the blessing of Beijing as a formal chief executive candidate."

Hong Kong residents directly elect half of the city's legislators, and the mini-constitution promises the territory eventually will be able to vote for the chief executive and all the legislators.

But Beijing has ruled out direct elections this year and has yet to set a timetable for allowing them. Leong promises to achieve full democracy in 2012, while Tsang says he will initiate a road map to democracy by then.

With the results pretty much decided before the ballots are even cast, the candidates are now fighting in the popularity polls. One woman says both candidates are good. But she says she is not concerned about the issue of universal suffrage.

For now, Hong Kong has a preview of what a campaign would look like if there were direct elections for the chief executive.