HONG KONG: A former security chief who oversaw the crackdown on Hong Kong's democracy movement was declared the business hub's new leader on Sunday (May 8) by a small committee of Beijing loyalists.
John Lee, 64, was the only candidate in a Beijing-backed one-horse race to succeed outgoing leader Carrie Lam.
His elevation places 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 public frustration and protests since the 1997 handover to China.
Its leader is instead chosen by an "election committee" currently comprised of 1,461 people - roughly 0.02 per cent of the city's population.
After a brief secret ballot on Sunday, 99 per cent (1,416 members) voted for Lee while eight voted against, according to officials.
"I declare that the only candidate Mr John Lee Ka-chiu is returned in the above mentioned election, congratulations," returning officer Justice Keith Yeung Kar-hung, announced.
Lee will take office on Jul 1, the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain.
Beijing hailed the near-unanimous result saying it showed "Hong Kong society has a high level of recognition and approval" for Lee.
"This is a real demonstration of democratic spirit," the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said in a statement.
HEAVY POLICE PRESENCE
Protests have been largely outlawed in Hong Kong, with authorities using an anti-coronavirus ban on public gatherings of more than four people as well as a new national security law.
Police ringed the exhibition centre with security, and 6,000 to 7,000 officers had been placed on standby, according to local media.
On Sunday morning, three members of the League of Social Democrats, a local activist group, protested the election by attempting to march toward the election venue while displaying a banner demanding universal suffrage that would allow Hong Kongers to vote both for the legislature and the chief executive.
“Human rights over power, the people are greater than the country,” the banner read. “One person, one vote for the chief executive. Immediately implement dual universal suffrage.”
One protester was handing out flyers before police arrived and cordoned off the protesters and the banner. Police also searched protesters' belongings and took down their personal details, though no arrests were immediately made.
The pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong has long demanded universal suffrage, which they say is 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 as Hong Kong’s future leader has sparked concern that Beijing could further 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 a national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 aimed at stamping out dissent.
His rise grew out of massive anti-government protests in 2019 that spiraled into violent clashes. As security secretary, he oversaw the police campaign to confront protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, then rounded many of them up for arrest later.
More than 150 people have been arrested under the security law, which outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs. Almost all prominent pro-democracy activists have been jailed, with others fleeing abroad or being intimidated into silence.
Thousands of residents have left the city of 7.4 million people amid the 2019 protests and subsequent harsh pandemic restrictions, including many professionals and expatriates.
Under the slogan Starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together, Lee has vowed to bring in "result-oriented" governance, forge unity and reboot the city's economy.
A 44-page manifesto he released last week stuck to broad goals and offered few concrete policies or targets.
Lee has said he will unveil more details when he makes his first policy address.
Lee was asked by reporters on Sunday whether he lacked a genuine mandate.
"I do understand there will be time that is needed for me to convince the people," he replied.
"But I can do that by action."
He said he planned to build a Hong Kong that is "full of hope, opportunities and harmony" now that authorities had "restored order from chaos".