AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
HONG KONG: Hong Kong's elite met behind closed doors on Sunday to choose the city's new leader as pro-democracy activists rallied outside, in the hardest fought election since the handover to Chinese rule.
Leaders of the regional financial hub's business, labour and political communities convened the 1,200-member election committee that is responsible for selecting a replacement for outgoing Chief Executive Donald Tsang.
The vast majority of Hong Kong's seven million residents have no right to vote in the "small circle" poll, according to the One Country, Two Systems arrangement by which China has ruled the former British colony since 1997.
Hundreds of pro-democracy activists packed the streets around the harbourside convention centre where the committee meeting was taking place, shouting slogans demanding "direct elections".
Former government adviser Leung Chun-ying, 57, is tipped to win an overall majority after his campaign was boosted by the last-minute support of the city's biggest pro-Beijing party.
His main rival, former businessman Henry Tang, 59, on Saturday dismissed reports that he was considering bowing out of the race.
Initially seen as Beijing's preferred choice for the job, his gaffe-ridden campaign disappointed his backers among the city's powerful tycoons and saw his public approval ratings plunge below 20 percent.
Polling opened at 9am (0100 GMT) and results are expected around 12.30pm (0430 GMT), officials said.
Election committee members, which include Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing who backs Tang, will cast their vote through paper ballots.
A second vote will be held later Sunday if the first fails to produce a clear winner. If that fails, a fresh election will be scheduled for May.