HONG KONG — John Lee was elected leader of Hong Kong next Sunday, after winning more than 99% of the votes cast by a largely pro-Beijing election committee.
Lee received 1,416 votes in the chief executive election, far exceeding the 751 votes he needed to win and the highest support ever for the city’s leadership position. The approximately 1,500 members of the electoral committee voted in a secret ballot on Sunday morning.
“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.
Lee will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1.
As the only candidate in the polls, Lee was expected to win, especially since he had Beijing’s endorsement and secured 786 election commission nominations last month. favor of his candidacy.
Lam congratulated Lee in a statement and said she would submit the election results to Beijing.
“The current government and I will ensure a smooth transition with the elected chief executive. We will provide all necessary support for the entry into office by the new term of government,” Lam said in a statement. a statement.
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. Although they voted by secret ballot, voters in Hong Kong were all carefully selected.
The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong also praised Lee in a statement and said the election was conducted in a “fair, just and orderly manner in accordance with laws and regulations.”
“Lee received numerous nominations and was elected with a high number of 1,416 votes. It is not only the solemn choice of the election committee, but also a strong expression of public opinion,” the statement said.
The Mainland China State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office also praised Lee in a statement, saying the ‘successful election’ proved the city’s new electoral system is ‘good’. and consistent with the “one country, two systems” framework that Hong Kong is governed by.
The statement added that the new chief executive will lead the Hong Kong government and “people from all walks of life to move forward in unity.”
The British ceded Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997 under “one country, two systems”, which promised the city certain freedoms not found on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
Critics say those freedoms are being eroded as Beijing has exercised greater control over the former British colony in recent years.
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 distributing leaflets before police arrived and cordoned off the protesters and the banner. Police also searched protesters’ personal belongings and recorded their personal information, although no arrests were made immediately.
The pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong has long called for universal suffrage, which they say the city is promised in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law. It was also a key demand during the 2014 Umbrella Revolution protests and the 2019 anti-government protests.
Lee’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised fears that Beijing could further tighten its grip on Hong Kong. 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 aimed at stamping out dissent.
His rise was born out of massive anti-government protests in 2019 that turned into violent clashes. As security secretary, he oversaw the police campaign to confront protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, then arrested many to arrest them later.
More than 150 people were arrested under the Security Law, which prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces to interfere 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.