China's third most powerful leader said on Monday that Beijing had the right to "step in" to Hong Kong's leadership contest, according to local politicians who met him, in remarks fueling fears of meddling from Communist Party leaders.
The comments by Zhang Dejiang, the head of China's parliament and its leading official on Hong Kong issues, came after other officials played down rumors that Beijing was interfering in a race pitting China's preferred candidate against a more popular figure.
Under laws governing the former British colony since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, autonomous Hong Kong has the right to choose its chief executive via a 1,200-strong election committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.
The committee is due to vote at the end of this month to decide between two former officials and a retired judge to lead the freewheeling city of 7.3 million people.
But the independence of the election has been questioned, with several election committee members telling media they had received phone calls from people with ties to the Chinese government trying to influence their votes.