The most powerful political leader in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is the Chief Executive (“CE”). Prior to 1 July 1997, the choice of the Governor, the then most powerful political leader in Hong Kong, was made by the Queen on the advice of her ministers, usually the British Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

After China’s resumption of sovereignty in 1997, the office of Chief Executive of the HKSAR came into being along with a new process that gave Hong Kong people, for the first time, a say in selecting the CE.

The Selection Committee, formed before the reunification in 1997, with similar types of members and functions as the Election Committee (“EC”) first formed in 1998, can be regarded as the latter’s predecessor. The Selection Committee elected the first CE of the HKSAR from among eight eligible applicants in a 3-stage exercise. First members of the Selection Committee cast nomination votes. Applicants had to obtain 50 or more nominations in order to proceed to the next stage as valid candidates. Only three candidates satisfied this requirement, C.H. Tung (206), Sir T.L. Yang (82) and Peter Woo (54). Next, the 3 candidates campaigned for votes via presentations to and question and answer sessions with the Selection Committee. Finally, on 11 December 1996, ballots were cast by the Selection Committee and Tung won with 320 votes. He became the first CE of the HKSAR.

Prior to the second Legislative Council (“LegCo”) election in 2000, a new EC was constituted pursuant to the LegCo Ordinance. This 2000 EC was the first EC established in accordance with the (then mooted) CE Election Ordinance of 2001. In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit Hong Kong. At about the same time, the HKSAR Government’s poor (and failed) handling of an attempt to introduce controversial national security legislation added to the sense of political crisis. Tung’s popularity continued to fall. He eventually resigned as CE for health reasons in March 2005. Donald Tsang, Tung’s Chief Secretary and the most senior official after Tung, won 674 EC nominations and was the only valid candidate at the end of the nomination period on 16 June 2005. He became the new CE, with a mandate to serve out Tung’s remaining term.

On 25 March 2007, almost a decade after the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China, the HKSAR held its first ever contested election for CE. Donald Tsang was re-elected with 649 votes to Alan Leong’s 123 votes.

On 25 March 2012, the fourth Chief Executive election was held to select the Chief Executive by a 1200-member EC to replace the incumbent Chief Executive Donald Tsang. For the first time, there were three candidates in this election. Leung Chun Ying (“CY Leung”) defeated former Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang and Democratic Party LegCo member Albert Ho. CY Leung was elected with 689 votes.

The next CE election will be held in 2017 to elect the fifth term of the CE. In December 2007, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decided that the 2017 CE could be selected by universal suffrage. However, in order for this to occur, the Basic Law would need to be amended in accordance with the formula in Article 159 which ordinarily requires the consent of (i) two-thirds of the Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress, (ii) two-thirds of all the members of LegCo, and (iii) the CE.
Q1. How is the Chief Executive selected in the current system?
A1. The Chief Executive is
i) nominated and elected by a broadly representative Election Committee consisting of 1200 individual members), and
ii) appointed by the Central People’s Government.

Q2. Who can be a Chief Executive candidate?
A2. There are four criteria to meet for candidature:
i) A Hong Kong Special Administrative Region permanent resident who is a Chinese citizen with no right of abode in any foreign country;
ii) Reached 40 years of age;
iii) Ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than 20 years; and
iv) Obtained nominations from at least 150 members of the EC.
Q3. Can the Chief Executive be a member of any political party?
A3. No. According to section 31 of the Chief Executive Election Ordinance (Cap 569), the elected Chief Executive has to declare that he is not a member of any political party.
Q4. What is the Election Committee?
A4. The Election Committee is a body consisting of elected and ex-officio members responsible for nominating and electing the Chief Executive. According to Annex I of the Basic Law, its composition is drawn from the following four sectors:
I. Industrial, commercial and financial sectors
II. The professions
III. Labour, social services, religious and other sectors
IV. Members of the LegCo, representatives of district-based organizations, Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress, and representatives of Hong Kong members of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
In the 1200-member Election Committee, each sector has a quarter of the membership.
Q5. Who can nominate Chief Executive candidates?
A5. In the current nomination system, the power to nominate Chief Executive candidates is exclusively reserved for members of the EC. Each EC members can only nominate one candidate and the nomination shall not be withdrawn or revoked. There is nothing to prevent CE candidates from obtaining more than the 150 required nominations for candidacy.
Q6. Is the nomination of the Chief Executive made public?
A6. Yes. In the current EC system, the names of the EC in the nomination forms are made public and can be found in the Hong Kong Gazette.
Q7. How is the Chief Executive elected?
A7. Each EC member is entitled to cast a single vote by secret ballot. If there is more than one candidate running for the election, a candidate who obtains more than 600 valid votes cast in any round of voting will win the election.
Q8. What happens when there is only one Chief Executive candidate in the race?
A8. An election of the EC is still required even if there is only one validly nominated Chief Executive candidate. Members of the EC can cast “support” or “not support” votes. The candidate would only be returned as the elected Chief Executive if he or she gets no less than 600 “support” votes, which is half of the EC members.
Q9. How long is the Chief Executive’s term of office?
A9. According to article 46 of the Basic Law, the Chief Executive’s term of office shall be 5 years. He or she may serve for no more than 2 consecutive terms.

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from website:

Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. (2013). Electoral matters: Chief Executive Election. Retrieved from website:

Registration and Electoral Office. (2012). The Fourth Term Chief Executive Election: Facts about the election. Retrieved from website:

Chief Executive Election Ordinance (Cap 569), available at:

Simon N. M. Young and Richard Cullen, Electing Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010)