The pro-Beijing Jun Lee was elected Hong Kong’s next leader

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

Lee was the only candidate and won more than 99% of the vote in which all 1,500 members of the commission were carefully vetted by the central government in Beijing.

He will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1. Her five-term term was marked by massive pro-democracy protests calling for her resignation, a crackdown that wiped out nearly all dissent, and the recent wave of COVID-19 that overwhelmed the health system. The events that undermined Hong Kong’s reputation as an international business center with Western-style freedoms.

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

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

The election came on the heels of major changes to Hong Kong’s election laws last year to ensure that only “patriots” loyal to Beijing could take office. The Legislative Council was also reorganized to include everyone except for the elimination of opposition voices.

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

Without opposition, Lee is likely to have an easier time ruling Hong Kong than Lam, said Evan Choi, senior lecturer in government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“One of the main reasons for facilitating governance is that the electoral system has changed,” he said. “In the legislature and the election commission, there is almost no political opposition and the political spectrum is concentrated towards the pro-establishment camp.”

“With no Democrats, it will be easier for the CEO to govern because there are fewer checks and balances,” he said.

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

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council on mainland China said in its congratulatory note that the “successful election” proved that the city’s new electoral system is “good” and in line with the “one country, two systems” framework as in Hong Kong.

Critics say freedom of expression and assembly, which Hong Kong promised to keep for 50 years when Britain handed it over to China in 1997, has eroded as Beijing takes greater control of the region.

On Sunday morning, three members of the League of Social Democrats, a local activist group, protested the elections by trying to march towards the polling place while displaying a banner calling for universal suffrage that would allow Hong Kong to vote for both the legislature and the president. managers.

The banner reads “Human rights over power, the people are greater than the country.” “One person, one vote for the CEO. Immediately implement dual universal suffrage.”

One protester was distributing flyers before the police arrived and surrounded them. Police also searched the protesters’ property and withdrew their personal data, although they did not make immediate arrests.

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

Lee’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised concerns that Beijing may tighten its grip. He spent most of his civil service career in the Police and Security Bureau, and is a staunch supporter of the national security law imposed on 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, rubber bullets, and arrests that quelled further protests.

More than 150 people were arrested under the security law, which forbids secession, sabotage, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in the city’s affairs. Almost all prominent pro-democracy activists have been imprisoned, while others have fled abroad or been intimidated into silence.

Thousands of residents have left the city of 7.4 million amid the 2019 protests and the ensuing harsh pandemic restrictions, including many professionals and expats.

Campaigning in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s election, Lee pledged to enact long-awaited domestic legislation to protect against security threats and pledged to increase the supply of housing in the world’s most expensive real estate market.

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

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