On Sunday, 1,994 people will choose a new chief executive on behalf of Hong Kongs nearly 4 million voters but Beijings anointed one is far from popular
Every newly elected leader of Hong Kong takes the oath of office in front of Chinas president, below a giant red national flag of China, and the slightly smaller banner of the city.
It is a tightly scripted event designed to shield Chinese officials from the embarrassment of dissenting voices.
In Hong Kong politics, formality is everything, and many say the election for the citys next leader which happens on Sunday will indeed be a formality.
Most expect Beijings preferred candidate to be anointed despite her rival being by far the more popular choice.
The race for the top job, officially known as the chief executive, is largely between two retired civil servants. Carrie Lam was the deputy to the present chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and is supported by the Chinese government. John Tsang, a former financial secretary, consistently polls ahead of her by a wide margin.
A third candidate is also running, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who is neither popular nor politically connected in Beijing.
However, only 1,094 people are able to cast a ballot, far less than the citys 3.8 million registered voters. Those who have a say include all 70 members of the citys legislature and some district politicians, business groups, professional unions, pop stars, priests and professors.
This is entirely controlled by the Beijing government, its a selection, not an election, says Nathan Law, a pro-democracy legislator swept into office in the wake of 2014 street protests agitating for more open elections.
If Carrie Lam wins, it will be hard for her to govern Hong Kong because she doesnt have the support from ordinary people.
The idea that Sundays vote is indeed a selection, not an election is a mantra repeated across the political spectrum, with many dismayed that citizens in the former British colony have no say in who runs the city.
The Basic Law, Hong Kongs mini constitution, explicitly states: The ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage. A political change package pushed by Beijing in 2014 would have allowed a one person, one vote system, but candidates would first need to be approved by a committee.
That pre-screening was criticised by pro-democracy activists, eventually erupting into 79 days of street protests that consumed the city.
I dont see much of a difference, comparing Lam to CY Leung, said Law, one of the leaders of those protests. Shes also responsible for the failure of political reform and the impression she has given during the campaign is that she will be a hardliner.
Law, who as a legislator is able to vote, plans to submit a blank ballot in protest against Beijings outsized influence in the decision and the small circle nature of the election.