John Lee, a hardline security chief who oversaw the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, was chosen as the city’s next leader on Sunday in a vote cast by a largely pro-Beijing committee.
Mr. Lee was the only candidate and won with more than 99% of the votes in which nearly all of the 1,500 committee members were carefully scrutinized by the central government in Beijing.
She will replace current frontwoman Carrie Lam on July 1. His five-year term was marked by huge pro-democracy protests calling for his resignation, a security crackdown that has quelled virtually all dissent, and the recent wave of COVID-19 that had overwhelmed the health system — events that they have undermined Hong Kong’s reputation as an international business hub with Western-style freedoms.
“I hope that we will all start a new chapter together, building a caring, open and vibrant Hong Kong, and a Hong Kong full of opportunity and harmony,” Mr. Lee said in his victory speech.
Lam congratulated Mr. Lee in a statement and said he would submit the election results to Beijing.
The election followed major changes to Hong Kong’s electoral laws last year to ensure that only “patriots” loyal to Beijing can hold office. The legislature was also reorganized to nearly eliminate opposition voices.
The elaborate arrangements surrounding the predetermined outcome speak to Beijing’s desire for a semblance of democracy. Committee members voted in a secret ballot, and Mr. Lee’s 1,416 votes were the highest support for the highest leadership position in the city.
Without opposition, Lee is likely to find it easier to govern Hong Kong than Lam, said Ivan Choy, senior lecturer in the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“One of the main reasons for making governance easier is that the electoral system has changed,” he said. “In the legislature and the electoral committee, there is almost no political opposition and the political spectrum is concentrated towards the pro-establishment camp.”
“Without Democrats, it will be easier for the chief executive to govern as there are fewer checks and balances,” he said.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Lee’s election “violates democratic principles and political pluralism in Hong Kong.”
“The selection process is one more step in dismantling the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” Mr. Borrell tweeted.
The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong congratulated Mr. Lee, saying the election was conducted in a “fair, fair and orderly manner in accordance with laws and regulations.”
The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council of mainland China said in its congratulatory note that the “successful election” demonstrated that the city’s new electoral system is “good” and in line with the framework of ” one country, two systems” that Hong Kong is governed by.
Critics say the freedom of expression and assembly that Hong Kong promised to maintain for 50 years when Britain handed it over to China in 1997 has vanished as Beijing asserts tighter control over the territory.
On Sunday morning, three members of the League of Social Democrats, a local activist group, protested the election by attempting to march to the polling site while displaying a banner demanding universal suffrage that would allow Hong Kongers to vote for both the legislature as for the boss. executive.
“Human rights over power, the people are greater than the country,” the banner read. “One person, one vote for CEO. Immediately implement dual universal suffrage.”
A protester was handing out flyers before police arrived and cordoned them off. Police also searched the protesters’ belongings and took down their personal details, although they made no immediate arrests.
The pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong has long demanded universal suffrage, which they say is promised in their mini-constitution, the Basic Law. It was also a key demand during the mass protests of 2014 and 2019.
Lee’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised concerns that Beijing could further tighten its grip. He spent most of his civil service career in the police and security bureau, and is a strong supporter of a national security law imposed in Hong Kong in 2020 to crack down on dissent.
As security secretary during the 2019 clashes between police and protesters, he oversaw the use of tear gas and rubber bullets and the arrests that quelled further protests.
More than 150 people have been arrested under the security law, which prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in the city’s affairs. Nearly all of the prominent pro-democracy activists have been jailed, and others have fled abroad or been intimidated into silence.
Thousands of residents fled the city of 7.4 million people amid the 2019 protests and subsequent harsh pandemic restrictions, including many professionals and expats.
On the campaign trail in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s election, Mr. Lee pledged to enact long-overdue local laws to protect against security threats and vowed to increase the supply of homes in the world’s most expensive housing market. world.
He also said it would enhance the city’s competitiveness and lay a solid foundation for Hong Kong’s development.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.