06/16/2005, 00.00
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Donald Tsang appointed Hong Kong's new Chief Executive

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Donald Tsang, 60, the first ethnic Chinese appointed Finance Secretary of the British Crown colony of Hong Kong, becomes the new Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Territory.

Known for his elegant suits and bow ties, Mr Tsang is a perfect specimen of the civil servant who served London with honour and now serves Beijing with equal zeal.

He got the job without being elected though. Some 710 delegates from the 800, mostly Beijing-nominated election committee members pledged their support for his nomination.

Following the resignation a few months ago of former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, ostensibly on health grounds, mainland China had endorsed Mr Tsang. In reality, Mr Tung's erratic and unpopular policies had turned the Beijing-dominated population of Hong Kong against him. For some anaylsts, Tsang's choice can thus be construed as Beijing trying to regain some popular support.

Although not involved in a real campaign—which would have been useless anyway, Donald Tsang, who is Catholic and is the father of two children, in recent days allowed himself to be filmed in campaign-style poses: visiting a pastry shop, exchanging pleasantries with old friends from his neighbourhood, talking to family members.

Mr Tsang's only real challenger in the leadership race was Lee Wing-tat, president of the Democratic Party (DP), who only got 51 endorsements.

For years, the DP has been pushing for direct elections to the post of Chief Executive, but Beijing has refused any further movement towards greater democracy claiming exclusive decision-making powers over election rules. In the end, it intervened directly in the appointment of the new Chief Executive.

According to the law, the Chief's mandate should last five years, but in Tsang's case it will be shortened to only two years. This will allow Beijing to vet its new point man and decide whether to trust this top bureaucrat from the bygone—but efficient—colonial administration. It will also force Tsang to avoid making waves that might raise doubts among his masters in Beijing.

Among those in the Election Committee who endorsed him, there are many, wealthy figures from Hong Kong's financial and commercial elites. By contrast, academics, lawyers and medical professionals endorsed Lee.

Some weeks ago, Mr Tsang wrote a letter to Hong Kong parish priests asking them to pray for him. But, the Bishop of Hong Kong, Mgr Joseph Zen, criticised him several times, saying that as the Territory's chief secretary under Tung Chee-hwa, Mr Tsang was responsible for the former Chief Executive's failed policies, especially in the areas of employment, family, education and liberty.

Some Hong Kong priests have never the less called Tsang's choice from Beijing's possible list of candidates the lesser evil. (BC)

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