Beijing loyalist John Lee elected Hong Kong’s next leader

HONG KONG (AP) – John Lee, a strict security chief who oversaw the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, was elected the city’s next leader on Sunday in a vote cast by a largely pro-democracy party. Beijing committee.

Lee was the sole candidate, winning with over 99% of the vote, with nearly all 1,500 committee members carefully vetted by the Beijing central government.

He will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1. Her five-term tenure has been marked by massive pro-democracy protests calling for her resignation, a security crackdown that has quashed virtually all dissent, the recent COVID-19 wave that had swept through the health system — events that have cemented Hong Kong’s reputation as an international business hub. with Western freedoms.

“I look forward to us all starting a new chapter together and building a Hong Kong that is caring, open and vibrant, and a Hong Kong full of opportunity and harmony,” Lee said in his victory speech.

Lam congratulated Lee in a statement and said she would present the election results to Beijing.

The elections 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 virtually eliminate opposition votes.

The extensive arrangements surrounding the predetermined outcome speak to Beijing’s desire for a layer of democracy. The committee members voted in a secret ballot, and Lee’s 1,416 votes were the largest support ever for the city’s highest leadership position.

Without opposition, Lee could probably rule Hong Kong more easily than Lam, said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Government and Public Administration.

“A major reason for simpler governance is that the electoral system has changed,” he said. “In the legislature and the electoral commission, 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 rule because there are fewer checks and balances,” he said.

The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong also congratulated Lee, saying the election was conducted in a “fair, just and orderly manner in accordance with laws and regulations.”

The Hong Kong and Macao Office of Mainland China Affairs of the State Council said in its congratulatory note that the “successful elections” have proved that the city’s new electoral system is “good” and in line with the “one country, two systems” framework that Hong Kong is governed by.

Critics say the freedom of speech and assembly that Hong Kong was promised to preserve for 50 years when it was handed over to China by Britain in 1997, has disappeared as Beijing exerts more 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 election site while displaying a banner demanding universal suffrage that would enable Hong Kongers both for the legislature. as to vote for the head. managerial.

“Human rights over power, the people are greater than the land,” the banner read. “One person, one vote for the CEO. Immediately implement double universal suffrage.”

A protester handed out flyers before police arrived and locked them up. Police also searched the protesters’ belongings and noted their personal details, although they did not immediately arrest them.

The pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong has long demanded universal suffrage, which they say has been promised in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law. It was also a key demand during mass protests in 2014 and 2019.

Lee’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised concerns that Beijing could further tighten its hold. He spent most of his civil service career in the Police and Security Bureau and is a staunch supporter of a national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 to stamp out dissent.

As security secretary during clashes between police and protesters in 2019, he oversaw the use of tear gas and rubber bullets and 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 troops in the city’s affairs. Nearly all prominent pro-democracy activists have been jailed, while others have fled abroad or have been intimidated into silence.

Thousands of residents have left the city of 7.4 million people during the 2019 protests and subsequent severe pandemic restrictions, including many professionals and expats.

In his election campaign in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s polls, Lee pledged to enact long-delayed local legislation to protect against security threats and vowed to increase housing supply in the world’s most expensive real estate market.

He also said he would improve the city’s competitiveness and lay a firm foundation for Hong Kong’s development.

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