John Lee: Hong Kong elects Beijing hardliner and former security chief as new leader

New leader is a staunch supporter of Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Sunday 08 May 2022 14:34 BST
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Hong Kong protesters

Beijing loyalist John Lee Ka-chiu was elected as the new leader of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on Sunday after securing more than 99 per cent of the votes cast by the election committee.

Mr Lee, the only candidate in the polls, received 1,416 votes in his favour from the election committee’s nearly 1,500 members, who cast their votes in a secret ballot. While 33 members abstained from voting, eight voted to “not support” him.

A candidate is only required to cross the halfway mark of 751 votes to win the election.

Mr Lee’s victory comes as no surprise after Beijing’s endorsement and 786 nominations from the members of the committee last month. The make-up of the election committee was amended last year to include a larger number of seats nominated by pro-Beijing organisations, as part of changes to ensure Hong Kong is run by “patriots”.

The 64-year-old former chairman of the candidate eligibility review committee for local elections will replace current leader Carrie Lam on 1 July. He has also served as the chief secretary for the administration of Hong Kong, which is the second-highest position after the chief executive, as well as the city’s secretary for security.

Mr Lee’s predecessor congratulated him on his success, saying she would ensure “a seamless transition” and “render all the support needed for the assumption of office by the new term of government”.

Addressing the press after his victory, Mr Lee said it was his “historic mission” to lead a new chapter for Hong Kong. He pledged to unite the former British colony and preserve the city’s international status as an open and competitive financial hub.

“Safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, national security and development interests, and protecting Hong Kong from internal and external threats, and ensuring its stability will continue to be of paramount importance,” he said.

Hong Kong chief executive-elect John Lee makes an address after his election

The election, where Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people don’t have any say in choosing their leader, comes at a time when the city is just starting to ease restrictions after a brutal wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Lee’s elevation as the new leader has raised concerns of a tightening crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, three years after the city was rocked by mass protests.

He is known to be a staunch supporter of the national security law, which was imposed on the city in June 2020 in a bid to throttle the ongoing dissent.

More than 150 people have since been arrested under the draconian law, which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and has been wielded against many protest leaders. The sweeping law has forced a number of high-profile pro-democracy activists and journalists to flee the country.

Mr Lee started his career as a police officer in 1977 and rose up the ranks before being appointed as undersecretary for security in September 2012, China’s state-run Global Times newspaper reported. He then served as secretary for security from 2017 to 2021.

When the ballots opened on Sunday morning, three members of local activist group the League of Social Democrats protested the election by attempting to march towards the venue while displaying a banner demanding universal suffrage.

“We believe we represent many Hong Kong people in expressing opposition to this China-style, single-candidate election,” Chan Po-ying, a member of the group, told Reuters.

Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council in a statement said the “successful election” proved that the city’s new electoral system is in line with the “one country, two systems” framework.

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