HONG KONG (AFP) – John Lee was elected Hong Kong’s next leader on Sunday, after winning more than 99% of the votes cast by a largely pro-Beijing election commission.
Lee received 1,416 votes in the CEO election, far exceeding the 751 votes he needed to win and the highest support ever for the city’s top leadership position. Nearly 1,500 members of the Election Commission cast their ballots in a secret ballot on Sunday morning.
“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.
Lee will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1.
As the only candidate on the ballot, Lee was widely expected to win, especially since he garnered Beijing’s endorsement and last month received 786 nominations from election commission members to support his candidacy.
Lam congratulated Li in a statement and said she would present the election results to Beijing.
“The current government and I will ensure a smooth transition with the CEO-elect. We will provide all necessary support to take up the position with the new term of government,” said Lam’s statement.
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. Although they voted by secret ballot, all Hong Kong voters were carefully vetted.
The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong also congratulated Lee in a statement, and said the elections were conducted “in a fair, just and orderly manner in accordance with laws and regulations.”
“Li received many nominations and was elected with a large number of 1,416 votes. This is not only the official selection of the Election Commission, but also a strong expression of public opinion,” the statement read.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council in mainland China also congratulated Lee in a statement, saying the “successful election” proved the city’s new electoral system is “good” and in line with the “one country, two systems” framework that Hong Kong governs.
The statement added that the new chief executive will lead the Hong Kong government and “people from all walks of life to move forward with unity”.
The British handed Hong Kong over to mainland China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework, which promised the city some freedoms not found on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
Critics say these freedoms are being eroded as Beijing has imposed greater control over the former British colony in recent years.
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. executive.
The banner reads “Human rights over power, the people are greater than the country.” “One person, one vote for CEO. Immediate implementation of double universal suffrage.”
One protester was distributing leaflets before the police arrived and surrounded the demonstrators and banners. Police also searched the protesters’ property and withdrew their personal data, although no arrests were made immediately.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has long demanded universal suffrage, which they said was promised to the city in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law. It was also a key demand in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution protests and 2019 anti-government demonstrations.
Lee’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised concerns that Beijing may tighten its grip on Hong Kong. He spent most of his civil service career in the Police and Security Bureau, and is an outspoken and staunch supporter of the national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 with the aim of stamping out dissent.
His rise stemmed from massive anti-government protests in 2019 that escalated into violent clashes. As a security secretary, he oversaw the police campaign to confront protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, many of whom were later arrested.
More than 150 people were arrested under the security law, which forbids secession, sabotage, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to interfere 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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