Months of massive and often violent protests in Hong Kong have driven the popularity rating for the city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, to historic lows. Lam herself has taken the blame for the “entire unrest” after introducing -- and then withdrawing -- a bill that would have for the first time allowed extraditions to mainland China. The Financial Times has reported that the Chinese government was drafting plans to install a new “interim” leader by March. But replacing a Hong Kong chief executive is a complicated, closed-door affair that is deeply entangled with the central problem facing the Asian financial hub: How do you balance the people’s desire for autonomy with China’s demands for control?
Responsibility for leading the city of 7.5 million would fall initially to Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung. Hong Kong’s Basic Law -- the “mini-constitution” drafted before the former British colony’s return to China in 1997 -- says the chief secretary can act as chief executive for as long as six months. During that interim period, the 1,200 members of the Election Committee must meet to select a new leader. The panel is comprised of political insiders overwhelmingly loyal to the government in Beijing, giving China’s Communist Party the ultimate say.