Chief Executive of Hong Kong

The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is the representative of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and head of the Government of Hong Kong.[3] The position was created to replace the office of governor of Hong Kong, the representative of the monarch of the United Kingdom during British rule.[4] The office, stipulated by the Hong Kong Basic Law, formally came into being on 1 July 1997 with the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China.

Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
John Lee Ka-chiu
since 1 July 2022
Government of Hong Kong
Office of the Chief Executive
Member ofExecutive Council
ResidenceGovernment House
NominatorElection Committee
AppointerState Council of the People's Republic of China (Decree signed by Premier)[1]
Term length5 years
Re-electable for another maximum 5-year term
Constituting instrumentHong Kong Basic Law
Inaugural holderTung Chee-hwa
Formation1 July 1997 (1 July 1997)
Chief Executive of Hong Kong
Traditional Chinese香港特別行政區行政長官
Simplified Chinese香港特别行政区行政长官
Commonly abbreviated as

The functions of the chief executive include nominating principal officials for appointment by the State Council of China, which is headed by the premier, conducting foreign relations, appointing judges and other public officers, giving consent to legislation passed by the Legislative Council, and bestowing honours. The Basic Law grants the chief executive a wide range of powers, but obliges him or her, before making important policy decisions, introducing bills to the Legislative Council, making subsidiary legislation, and dissolving the Legislative Council, to act only after consultation with the Executive Council (all of whose members are the CE's own appointees).[5] The Executive Council consists of official and non-official members, including the Chief Secretary for Administration, the most senior official and head of the Government Secretariat, in charge of overseeing the administration of the Government.

The chief executive holds the title "The Honourable", and ranks first in the Hong Kong order of precedence.[6] The official residence of the chief executive is Government House in Central, Hong Kong Island.

The current chief executive is John Lee selected as Chief Executive in the 2022 election, appointed by the Chinese State Council with the designation decree signed by Premier Li Keqiang on 30 May 2022 and took office on 1 July 2022.

Eligibility for office

According to article 44 of the Basic Law, the chief executive must be a Chinese citizen as defined by the HKSAR Passports Ordinance.[7][8] The individual must be at least 40 years old, a Hong Kong permanent resident who is a Chinese citizen with right of abode in Hong Kong, and has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than 20 years.[7] Article 47 further requires that the chief executive be a person of integrity, dedicated to his or her duties.[7] In addition, candidates are ineligible to stand for selection by the Election Committee without first obtaining nominations from one eighth of its total members.


The specific method for selecting the chief executive is prescribed in Annex I of the Basic Law. The Election Committee shall be composed of 1500 members from the following sectors pursuant to the amended Annex I under the 2021 Hong Kong electoral changes initiated by the National People's Congress. The Election Committee consists of individuals (i.e. private citizens) and representatives of bodies (i.e. special interest groups or corporate bodies) selected or elected by 40 prescribed sub-sectors as stipulated in Annex I to the Basic Law.

Election Committee

The Election Committee is responsible for the nomination of chief executive candidates and election of the chief executive-elect. Under the 2021 Hong Kong electoral changes initiated by the National People's Congress, each candidate running for chief executive elections is to be nominated by at least 188 members of the Election Committee, before their eligibility is reviewed and confirmed by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee of the HKSAR. The chief executive-designate is then returned by the Election Committee with an absolute majority.[9]

The Election Committee is now principally elected by body voters. The number of subsectors with individual votes were significantly reduced, together with elimination of mixed individual and body voting:

  • Half of seats (150 seats) in Sector III are nominated by members of national professional organisations or filled by ex officio members;
  • District Council subsectors were replaced by subsectors consisting of government-appointed representatives of members of Area Committees, District Fight Crime Committees, and District Fire Safety Committees;
  • All NPC and CPPCC sectors serve as ex officio EC members; and
  • subsectors consisting of grassroot organisations, associations of Chinese Fellow Townsmen, associations of Hong Kong residents in Mainland and Hong Kong members of relevant national organisations were introduced.
Sector Members[10]
Industrial, commercial and financial sectors300
The professions300
Agricultural, labour, religious, Chinese social and townspeople organisations300
Members of the Legislative Council, representatives of government and mainlanders' organisations300
HKSAR deputies to the National People's Congress, the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and representatives of Hong Kong members of Chinese national organisations300

Chief executive elections

Chief executive candidates must receive nominations by at least 188 members of the Election Committee, with nomination by at least 15 members of each sector of the Election Committee. Candidacy is confirmed upon review and confirmation of eligibility by the Candidate Qualification Review Committee, according to opinions issued by the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on the basis of a review by the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force on whether a candidate meets the legal requirements and conditions of upholding the Basic Law and swearing allegiance to the HKSAR of the People's Republic of China.

The chief executive-designate is then returned by the Election Committee with an absolute majority in a two-round system:[11]

Uncontested election Contested election
Election Committee casts votes of support/not support;

the chief executive-designate is to be returned with an absolutely majority (>750 valid votes)

Election Committee casts votes for 1 of the candidates;
the chief executive-designate is to be returned with an absolute majority (>750 valid votes)
If absolute majority won If absolute majority not won
Candidate with an absolutely majority of valid votes elected If:

1. more than 2 candidates obtain the highest and the same no. of votes; or
2. no candidates win an absolute majority


  • elimination of candidates other than those who obtained the highest number of votes in (1) or candidates with the highest and second highest number of votes in (2);
  • second round(s) of voting conducted, until a candidate with an absolutely majority (>750 valid votes) is elected

The chief executive-designate must publicly disaffiliate with a political party within seven days of the election and must not become a member of a party during their term of office.[11] The chief executive-designate is then appointed by the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China before taking office.

Electoral Reform

In the first selection of the chief executive, the committee consisted of only 400 members. It was expanded to 800 for the second term.[12][13] As a result of enabling legislation stemming from a public consultation in 2010,[14] and its approval by the National People's Congress Standing Committee in Beijing, the number of representatives was increased from 800 to 1200.[15] Following the electoral reform initiated by the Chinese government in 2021 to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, the number of representatives was increased to 1500 but most are appointed or ex-officio seats.


According to article 46 the term of office of the chief executive is five years with a maximum of two consecutive terms.[7] If a vacancy occurs mid-term, the new chief executive's first term is for the remainder of the previous chief executive's term only. The method of selecting the chief executive is provided under Article 45 and Annex I of the Basic Law, and the Chief Executive Election Ordinance.[7]

Term of office

Duties and powers

Under the Basic Law the chief executive is the chief representative of the people of Hong Kong and is the head of the government of Hong Kong. The chief executive's powers and functions include leading the government, implementing the law, signing bills and budgets passed by the Legislative Council, deciding on government policies, advising appointment and dismissal of principal officials of the Government of Hong Kong to the Central People's Government of China, appointing judges and holders of certain public offices and to pardon or commute sentences. The position is also responsible for the policy address made to the public.

The chief exeutive's powers and functions are established by article 48 of the Basic Law.

The Executive Council of Hong Kong is an organ for assisting the chief executive in policy-making.[16] The council is consulted before making important policy decisions, introducing bills to the Legislative Council, making subordinate legislation or dissolving the Legislative Council.


Article 52 of the Basic Law stipulates that the chief executive must resign when:

  • the chief executive loses the ability to discharge his or her duties as a result of serious illness or other reasons;
  • the chief executive refuses to sign a bill passed by a two-thirds majority of a re-elected Legislative Council, after the Legislative Council is dissolved; or
  • the Legislative Council refuses to pass the budget or any other important bill for a second time after the Legislative Council is dissolved.


The Legislative Council has the power to propose a motion of impeachment of the chief executive for decision by the Central People's Government of China, with the following steps as stipulated in article 73(9) of the Basic Law:[17]

  • One-fourth of all Legislative Council (LegCo) members can jointly initiate a motion, charging the chief executive with serious breach of law or dereliction of duty;
  • the motion for investigation passed by simple majority of votes of each of the two groups of members present;[note 1]
  • the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal is mandated to form and chair an independent investigation committee for carrying out the investigation and reporting its findings to LegCo;
  • the independent investigation committee considers the evidence sufficient to substantiate such charges;
  • a two-thirds majority of all LegCo members passes the motion of impeachment;
  • the motion of impeachment is reported to the Central People's Government of China for decision.

Acting and succession

The acting and succession line is spelled out in article 53. If the chief executive is not able to discharge his or her duties for short periods (such as during overseas visits), the duties would be assumed by the chief secretary for administration, the financial secretary or the secretary for justice, by rotation, in that order, as acting chief executive.[7] In case the position becomes vacant, a new chief executive would have to be selected.[18]

Residence and office

Government House, official residence of the chief executive

Prior to the handover in 1997, the office of the chief executive-designate was at the seventh floor of the Asia Pacific Finance Tower.[19] When Tung Chee-hwa assumed duty on 1 July 1997, the office of the chief executive was located at the fifth floor of the Former Central Government Offices (Main Wing).[20] In the past the governor had his office at Government House. Tung did not use Government House as the primary residence because he lived at his own residence at Grenville House.[21] Donald Tsang decided to return to the renovated Government House during his first term, and moved in on 12 January 2006, for both his office and residence.[22] In 2011, the office of the chief executive moved to the low block of the new Central Government Complex in Tamar. Government House continues to serve as the official residence of the chief executive.

Former chief executives

Upon retirement, former chief executives have access to office space at the Office of Former Chief Executives, 28 Kennedy Road.[23] The office provides administrative support to former chief executives to perform promotional, protocol-related, or any other activities in relation to their former official role. The activities include receiving visiting dignitaries and delegations, giving local and overseas media interviews, and taking part in speaking engagements.[24] A chauffeur-driven car is provided to discharge promotional and protocol-related functions.

Depending on police risk assessment, personal security protection is provided. Former chief executives also enjoy medical and dental care.[25]

Former chief executives hold the title "The Honourable", and ranks third in the Hong Kong order of precedence.


Remuneration for the chief executive of Hong Kong is among the highest in the world for a political leader, and only second to that of the prime minister of Singapore. The pay level took a cue from the handsome amounts paid to the city's colonial governors – worth $273,000 per annum plus perks in 1992.[26]

In 2005, Tung Chee Hwa received some HK$3 million ($378,500) in pay as chief executive. From 2009 until the end of 2014, the salary for the job stood at HK$4.22 million. In January 2015, CY Leung reversed a pay freeze imposed in 2012, resulting in its increase to HK$4.61 million ($591,000).[27] In July 2017, directors of bureaux (DoBs) were approved to have a 12.4% pay rise and the 3.5% pay differential between secretaries of departments (SoDs) and DoBs remained,[28] indicating a new annual pay of approximately HK$5 million for the city's leading role because the chief executive received a salary of 112% of the chief secretary. The new salary of the chief executive of Hong Kong is about thirty-nine times more than the current annual salary of the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, the top position in China.[29]

Criticism of the office

Since the chief executive is directly appointed by the Central People's Government of China[30] after an election by a committee of 1,500 people selected by the Chinese Government, rather than the general population,[31] many people, in particular the pro-democrats, have criticised the office as undemocratic, and have criticised the entire election process as a "small-circle election."[32] Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has even stated that the election's result is a non-binding one, saying that the Chinese government would refuse to appoint the winning candidate if that person was unacceptable to them.[33]

Many events, including the Five Constituencies Referendum in 2010, Umbrella Revolution in 2014 and Anti-Extradition Movement during 2019-20, have attempted to push for greater democracy and universal suffrage.[34]

In January 2015, when CY Leung reversed a pay freeze imposed on the chief executive and senior civil servants in 2012, he was accused of granting himself a pay rise by stealth and going against the trend of top politicians taking pay cuts instead of pay increases.[27]

In July 2021, Carrie Lam refused to remove the legal immunity of the chief executive on anti-bribery legislations, stating that the officeholder has to be accountable to the Beijing government and hence, extending such provisions to CE would 'sabotage its superior constitutional status'. She was accused of positioning herself above the law whilst going against the principles of separation of power and rule of law.[35]

List of chief executives of Hong Kong

Political party:   Nonpartisan

No. Portrait Name
Chinese name
Term of office
Duration in years and days
Election Political alignment Term
[n 1]
(supporting parties)
1 Tung Chee-hwa

(born 1937)

1 July
12 March
2005[n 2]
1996 Pro-Beijing 1 Tung I
2002 2 Tung II
7 years and 255 days
2 Donald Tsang

(born 1944)

21 June
30 June
2005 Pro-Beijing Tsang I
2007 3 Tsang II
7 years and 10 days
3 Leung Chun-ying

(born 1954)

1 July
30 June
2012 Pro-Beijing 4 Leung
5 years and 0 days
4 Carrie Lam

(born 1957)

1 July
30 June
2017 Pro-Beijing 5 Lam
5 years and 0 days
5 John Lee Ka-chiu

(born 1957)

1 July
Incumbent 2022 Pro-Beijing 6 Lee
216 days
  1. Successive fixed five-year CE terms in which incumbent
  2. Resigned, Chief Secretary for Administration Sir Donald Tsang served as acting chief executive from 12 March to 25 May 2005 and Financial Secretary Henry Tang acted from 25 May to 21 June 2005.
John Lee Ka-chiuCarrie LamLeung Chun-yingDonald TsangTung Chee-hwa
# Chief Executive Born Age at
start of tenure
Age at
end of tenure
01 Tung Chee-hwa 7 Jul 1937 59 years, 359 days
1 Jul 1997
67 years, 248 days
12 Mar 2005
17 years, 326 days 2023-02-1(Living) 85 years, 209 days
02 Donald Tsang 7 Oct 1944 60 years, 257 days
21 Jun 2005
67 years, 267 days
30 Jun 2012
10 years, 216 days 2023-02-1(Living) 78 years, 117 days
03 Leung Chun-ying 12 Aug 1954 57 years, 324 days
1 Jul 2012
62 years, 322 days
30 Jun 2017
5 years, 216 days 2023-02-1(Living) 68 years, 173 days
04 Carrie Lam 13 May 1957 60 years, 49 days
1 Jul 2017
65 years, 48 days
30 Jun 2022
216 days 2023-02-1(Living) 65 years, 264 days
05 John Lee 7 Dec 1957 64 years, 206 days
1 Jul 2022
69 years, 205 days
30 Jun 2027
(Pending) 2023-02-1(Living) 65 years, 56 days

See also


  1. First Group: Members returned by the Election Committee; Second Group: Members returned by Functional Constituencies and by Geographical Constituencies.


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