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Hong Kong Leaders Nominates Self for Another Term - 2002-02-19

Tung Chee-Hwa, Hong Kong's first post-colonial leader, filed papers Tuesday, nominating himself for a second term in office. Mr. Tung is virtually guaranteed to win, despite widespread public dissatisfaction with him.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa filed his nomination papers after he secured the support of nearly every member of the selection committee. The committee, which chooses the chief executive, is made up mostly of special interest groups, and is overwhelmingly pro-Beijing.

Mr. Tung, who in 1997 became Hong Kong's first Chinese leader after the territory's handover from Britain, says he received more than 700 nominations from the 800-member committee, giving him enough votes to win the election unopposed on March 24.

Beijing strongly backed Mr. Tung in 1997, and is supporting him now for another five-year term. Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are blasting the electoral process saying it is a system specifically designed to keep Hong Kong under mainland China's control.

"This shows that Hong Kong people have no say in choosing their leaders," said Joseph Cheung, an academic at the Hong Kong University. "Public opinion surveys show that about three-quarters of the people of Hong Kong support direct election of the chief executive, but very few people are willing to take action and fight for the cause," he said.

Since the handover, China has allowed Hong Kong to retain a great deal of autonomy, under a policy known as "one country, two systems." But pro-democracy activists complain many people, especially those with business ties with China, are too fearful of retribution to oppose Beijing's choice for the all-important chief executive position.

Though Mr. Tung has China's support, his support among the Hong Kong public has generally been dismal. A poll conducted in November shows that just 25 percent of the seven million people here approve of Mr. Tung's job performance.

The chief executive has been severely criticized for his inability to boost the economy, now poised to enter its second recession in four years. Public health issues, including multiple outbreaks of bird flu and increasing water and air pollution, have also put Mr. Tung under pressure.

His defenders say he has done what he has been elected to do, which is to oversee a successful transition from British to Chinese rule. Mr. Tung is promising to tackle financial woes during his second term.