Beijing protege and diehard John Lee ‘chosen’ as Hong Kong leader

A former security chief who oversaw a crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement was named the business center’s new chief on Sunday by a small committee of Beijing supporters.

John Lee, 64, was the only candidate in the Beijing-backed race to succeed incumbent leader Carrie Lam.

Lee’s elevation, subject to U.S. sanctions, puts a security official in the top job for the first time after a tumultuous few years for a city battered by political unrest and debilitating pandemic controls.

Despite the city’s mini-constitution promising universal suffrage, Hong Kong has never been a democracy, the source of years of frustration and public protests since handover to China in 1997.

Its leader is instead chosen by an “electoral committee” currently made up of 1,461 people, or about 0.02% of the city’s population.

As the only candidate in the polls, Lee was expected to win, especially since he had Beijing’s endorsement and last month secured 786 nominations from election committee members in favor. of his candidacy.

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 count 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.

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Posted: Sunday, May 8, 2022, 2:30 PM IST