Hong Kong’s ‘Patriots’ Select Former Security Chief As City’s Leader
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John Lee, the former security chief who oversaw the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2019, was elected unopposed as Hong Kong’s new leader on Sunday.

Lee garnered 1,416 votes in his favor versus 8 votes that did not support him from the roughly 1,500 members of the election committee that was revamped last year to ensure that only “patriots” govern Hong Kong.

“Having restored order from chaos, it is high time that Hong Kong starts a new chapter of development, a chapter that will be geared towards greater prosperity for all,” Lee said after the results were announced.

Lee will begin his five-year term as Hong Kong’s chief executive on July 1, when Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit the city as part of celebrations marking 25 years of Chinese rule of the former British colony.

It marks the first time a career policeman has been elevated to the city’s top job. Since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, four people have led the city as chief executive, two were career civil servants, one was a shipping tycoon and the other was a chartered surveyor. And each has had the unenviable task of balancing the priorities of the central government against those of Hong Kong’s public.

During his campaign, Lee had pledged that his administration would adopt a “result-oriented” approach. His platform promised to strengthen governance, improve housing, boost the city’s competitiveness while building a caring and inclusive society. Lee’s manifesto was only unveiled nine days before the election, and many have questioned it due to its lack of details.

Lee has also stated that he intends to enact long-shelved legislation known as Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. The bill would prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against China. However, when it was introduced in 2003, it sparked widespread opposition and protests due to the law’s vague and ambiguous terms that could be used to curb the city’s rights and freedoms.

The outcome of Sunday’s poll was never in doubt after China’s Liaison Office told local politicians and business leaders in early April that Lee would be the only candidate for the job with the blessing of President Xi Jinping’s government, according to local media reports.

By mid-April, Lee had already managed to secure 786 nominations from the almost 1,500 members that make up the election committee. Among his backers were some of the city’s wealthiest tycoons, including CK Asset Holdings chairman Victor Li, the eldest son of Li Ka-shing, Henderson Land co-chairman Martin Lee Ka-shing, the younger son of Lee Shau Kee, as well as Shun Tak Holdings chairman Pansy Ho, daughter of the late Stanley Ho.

“I hope the new chief executive can steady the popular sentiment and build a shared target among the people, especially after the enactment of the national security law and the improvement of the electoral system,” Pansy Ho said before voting in today’s election.

In March last year, the National People’s Congress of China overhauled the election rules for Hong Kong to ensure that the city is run by patriots, which Beijing defines as people who are loyal to the Communist Party. Every candidate running for positions of public office, such as chief executive, has to be approved by the government.

Lee’s selection as the chief executive is seen by many as a clear indication that China’s leaders are prioritizing security above all else Lee’s 45-year career has been focused on security matters, excluding a brief nine-month spell as Hong Kong’s chief secretary.

During his tenure as security chief from 2017 to 2021, he gained a reputation as a hard-liner for his role in pushing for a controversial extradition bill that sparked demonstrations which eventually escalated into violent clashes between police and protesters.

“We are facing very difficult times,” said Ronny Tong, a member of the cabinet that advises the outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam. “Because of Covid-19, it’s not easy for people to be able to come out and to form a team in order to run for the highest office in the land. However, the fact that we have only one candidate doesn’t mean that he’s going to face a very easy time in the five years ahead.”

Strict pandemic policies have turned Hong Kong into one of the world’s most isolated cities. The city’s borders have essentially been closed since 2020, as the government has sought to adhere to mainland China’s “dynamic zero” strategy. The once-thriving financial center saw its economy shrink 4% in the first quarter from a year earlier, and the stock market has slumped 24% over the past 12 months.

“I am very conscious of the need to make Hong Kong accessible to the world and also it is an important thing for Hong Kong to be able to resume normal travel with the mainland,” said Lee. “I think we can work together to make this a possible thing to happen, if, first of all, we all together make a great effort to control Covid.”

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