Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said on Friday he will not run again for office and will stand down when his first term ends, citing family reasons.
He told reporters that the Chinese central government has accepted his decision not to run in the March 2017 election and were “very supportive” of his decision.
There has been widespread speculation in the past few weeks about who will get Beijing’s backing to run for the chief executive position, with financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee among those tipped.
Only 1,200 Hong Kong people are allowed to vote in the chief executive elections and the panel is made up almost entirely of pro-Beijing and pro-business candidates.
Mr Leung's decision not to stand comes as Chinese Communist Party leaders have expressed anger at growing support for parties calling for independence and self-determination in the former British colony.
Reverted to Chinese rule
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing it wide-ranging freedoms and a separate legal system for 50 years.
In recent weeks Mr Leung has fought a legal battle against politicians from the independence movement to disqualify them from taking their seats in the legislative council after they pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a banner declaring “Hong Kong is not China” during their swearing-in ceremony in October.
There were reports in the Chinese-language Apple Daily that Mr Leung's daughter Chai-yan has been in hospital for more than a month.
In recent years she has made a number of controversial posts on Facebook, including accusations that her mother had attacked her and a photograph in 2014 that appeared to show a slashed wrist and blood in a bathtub.
Mr Leung said he did not wish to go into his personal life too deeply but said: "As a husband and father I have a responsibility . . . My daughter has only one father and my wife has only one husband," according to the South China Morning Post.
An opinion poll released earlier by Mr Leung’s rivals, the Democratic Party, showed that almost 70 per cent of Hong Kong people opposed his re-election as chief executive.
Mr Leung has rarely proven popular during his tenure, especially during the “Occupy Central” protests in 2014 when he was demonised by the student protesters as a pawn of Beijing.
Mr Leung became the territory's fourth chief executive in 2012, succeeding Donald Tsang. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)