'CY Leung 2.0' leads race for Hong Kong's top job as election nears

The race for Hong Kong's top job has narrowed down to three candidates in an election set for March 26.

On Wednesday, an election committee consisting of primarily Beijing loyalists selected retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, former chief secretary Carrie Lam, and ex-financial secretary John Tsang to run for Chief Executive.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's former chief secretary and candidate for the city's top job of Chief Executive
Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The 59-year-old Lam, widely seen as China's preferred candidate, secured 572 of the committee's 1,200 votes—just 29 votes shy of the 601 needed to win the job. Meanwhile, Tsang and Woo got 160 and 179 votes, respectively.

As a special administrative region of the mainland, Hong Kong is unable to democratically elect its own leaders so Beijing has final say on the matter.

Lam has a 95 percent chance of winning, Danny Gittings, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, told CNBC on Thursday.

Hong Kongers seem to agree; a survey commissioned by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) last month revealed 65.9 percent of respondents believed Lam would win the race.

"Beijing has been quick to throw its weight behind Lam as the popularity of the region's pro-democracy candidates has grown," political intelligence firm Stratfor said in a Wednesday note.

Mainland officials reportedly met with Hong Kong's pro-China camp last month and conveyed Beijing's decision to promote Lam, even allegedly asked electors to change their votes in her favor, Stratfor continued.

CY Leung 2.0?
CY Leung 2.0?

But despite Beijing's approval, Lam isn't guaranteed success.

She previously indicated a desire to continue the policies of current Chief Executive CY Leung, who is deeply unpopular among Hong Kongers, and that's earned her the nickname of "CY Leung 2.0," explained Gittings.

Lam has since attempted to differentiate herself in recent media interviews to drum up support, proposing to abolish some of Leung's policies in her final manifesto that was released Monday.

Still, many locals may not take too kindly to Lam, warned Stratfor.

"Beijing's determination to tamp down on challenges to Lam's victory could further fuel the public's dissatisfaction with China's heavy-handed policies in Hong Kong."

More pro-democracy protests are now likely in the lead-up to the election, Stratfor added.

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