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Hong Kong: Ex-security chief John Lee named new leader

Published : May 09, 2022 16:31 IST T+T-
John Lee was the only one running for Hong Kong's top post.

John Lee was the only one running for Hong Kong's top post.

An election committee composed of largely pro-Beijing figures voted for John Lee to be the new leader of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong elected a new leader, John Lee, on May 8. Lee, 64, is set to replace Carrie Lam as Hong Kong's next chief executive on July 1. Lee was the former chief secretary of Hong Kong before he announced his bid to become the chief executive of the Chinese special administrative region. Lee was the only candidate in the running, and the committee that voted for him was elected by pro-Beijing figures from Hong Kong's establishment circle in September last year.

A former deputy police commissioner until he was promoted to chief secretary in 2021, Lee built up a reputation for enforcing strict law and order. Lee's image is that of a "tough guy and a law enforcer that would not like to listen to others' views, be accommodating, or be measured," Kenneth Chan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University, recently told DW . But critics of Lee have pointed to his role in the government's sweeping crackdown of protesters during the 2019 pro-democracy movement. Lee, as a security official then, oversaw thousands of arrests. At the time, the police were also criticized for using excessive force.

Pro-Beijing committee elects John Lee

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.

Of the 1,461 people on the Hong Kong election committee, 1,416 members voted for Lee, while eight others voted against him. The rest did not cast ballots. "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 said. Hong Kong's election committee members were chosen in September 2021 in a process tightly controlled by Beijing.

Hong Kong's process for naming Lee its new leader violated democratic norms, according to European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. "The European Union regrets this violation of democratic principles and political pluralism and sees this selection process as yet another step in the dismantling of the 'one country, two systems' principle," he said in a statement.

Heavy security around polling center, little scope for protest

Local media reported a heavy police presence at the polling station at an exhibition center in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district. Media reports also said around 6,000 to 7,000 officers were on standby. The League of Social Democrats, a local activist group, also staged a three-person protest before polling opened. The Associated Press reported that police looked through their belongings and took down their personal details at the site. They did not arrest them. Hong Kong has imposed some of the world's toughest COVID restrictions, with a ban on public gatherings of more than four people currently in place.

Lee's hardline approach raises concern

Even if Beijing portrays a priority to ensure order in the city after years of turmoil, experts worry that Lee would use the controversial national security law to clamp down even more on protesters and the media. That's because Lee has vowed to enforce a constitutional responsibility to enforce a new set of regulations to ban acts that are considered hostile to China. Over the last two years, dozens of pro-democracy news media outlets were forced to close as employees were arrested. Beijing imposed the national security law in 2020 that effectively gave it the power to punish protesters for life.

rm/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)