Beijing loyalist John Lee elected Hong Kong’s next leader

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HONG KONG — John Lee, a hardline security chief who has overseen a crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, was elected city leader next Sunday in a vote by a largely pro-democracy committee. Beijing.

Lee was the sole candidate and won with over 99% of the vote in which almost all of the 1,500 committee members were carefully vetted by the central government in Beijing.

He will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1. His five-year term has been marked by huge pro-democracy protests calling for his resignation, a security crackdown that has wiped out virtually all dissent, the recent wave of COVID-19 that had overwhelmed the healthcare system — events that have undermined reputation of Hong Kong as an international business hub with western-style freedoms.

“I look forward to us all starting a new chapter together, building a caring, open and vibrant Hong Kong, 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 submit the election results to Beijing.

The election followed major changes to Hong Kong’s election laws last year to ensure only “patriots” loyal to Beijing can hold office. The legislature was also reorganized to virtually eliminate opposition voices.

The elaborate arrangements surrounding the predetermined outcome speak to Beijing’s desire for a veneer of democracy. Committee members voted by secret ballot, and Lee’s 1,416 votes was the highest support ever for the city’s highest leadership position.

Without opposition, Lee would likely have an easier time governing 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 easier governance is that the electoral system has changed,” he said. “In the legislature and the election 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 because 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,” Borrell tweeted.

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

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

Critics say the freedom of speech and assembly that Hong Kong pledged to retain for 50 years when it was ceded by Britain to China in 1997 has disappeared as Beijing exerts greater control over the territory.

On Sunday morning, three members of the League of Social Democrats, a grassroots activist group, protested against the election by attempting to march to the election site while displaying a banner demanding universal suffrage that would allow Hong Kongers to vote in both for the legislature and the chief executive.

“Human rights over power, the people is greater than the country,” read the banner. “One person, one vote for the Chief Executive. Immediately implement double universal suffrage.”

A protester was handing out flyers before police arrived and buckled them. Police also searched the protesters’ belongings and wrote down their personal information, but made no immediate arrests.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has long called for universal suffrage, which they say is promised in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law. It was also a key demand during the massive protests of 2014 and 2019.

Lee’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised fears that Beijing could tighten its grip further. He has spent most of his career in public service in the police and security bureau and is a strong supporter of a national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 to stamp out dissent.

As security secretary during 2019 clashes between police and protesters, he oversaw the use of tear gas and rubber bullets and arrests that stifled further protests.

More than 150 people were arrested under the Security Law, which prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in city affairs. Almost all prominent pro-democracy activists have been imprisoned, others have fled abroad or been bullied into silence.

Thousands of residents have left the city of 7.4 million amid 2019 protests and the severe pandemic restrictions that followed, including many working professionals and expats.

While campaigning in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s election, Lee pledged to enact longstanding local legislation to protect against security threats and pledged to increase the supply of housing on the the most expensive real estate market in the world.

He also said it will improve the city’s competitiveness and lay a solid foundation for Hong Kong’s development.

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