Beijing loyalist John Lee was elected Hong Kong’s next leader

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HONG KONG – John Lee was elected as Hong KongThe leader’s next Sunday, after winning over 99% of the votes cast by a largely pro-Beijing electoral committee.

Lee received 1,416 votes in the chief executive officer election, far exceeding the 751 votes needed to win and the highest ever support for the city’s top leadership position. The nearly 1,500 members of the Electoral Committee cast their votes by secret ballot on Sunday morning.

“I look forward to all of us starting a new chapter together, building a Hong Kong that is caring, open and vibrant and a Hong Kong filled with opportunity and harmony,” Lee said in his victory speech.

Lee will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1st.

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As the only candidate at the polls, Lee was widely expected to win, especially as he had the approval of Beijing and last month he won 786 nominations from members of the Electoral Committee in support of his candidacy.

The Chinese national flag is seen in front of cranes on a construction site in a commercial district in Beijing, China, January 26, 2016. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon - RTX240F5

The Chinese national flag is seen in front of cranes on a construction site in a commercial district in Beijing, China, January 26, 2016. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon – RTX240F5
(REUTERS / Kim Kyung Hoon – RTX240F5)

Lam congratulated Lee in a statement and said he would present the election results to Beijing.

“The current government and I will ensure a seamless transition with the elected chief executive officer. We will provide all necessary support to take office within the new government term,” Lam’s statement said.

The election followed major changes to Hong Kong’s electoral laws last year to ensure that only “patriots” loyal to Beijing can hold office. The legislature has also been reorganized for all but to eliminate opposition voices.

Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee listens to questions during a press conference in Hong Kong on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Photo AP / Vincent Yu)

Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee listens to questions during a press conference in Hong Kong on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Photo AP / Vincent Yu)
(AP Photo / Vincent Yu)

The elaborate agreements surrounding the predetermined outcome speak of Beijing’s desire for a veneer of democracy. Although they voted by secret ballot, Hong Kong voters were all closely monitored.

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The Chinese government liaison office in Hong Kong also congratulated Lee in a statement and said the elections were held in “a fair, just and orderly manner in accordance with laws and regulations.”

“Lee received many nominations and was elected with a high number of 1,416 votes. This is not only the solemn choice of the electoral committee, but also a strong expression of public opinion,” the statement read.

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Bureau of the Mainland China State Council also congratulated Lee in a statement, saying the “successful elections” proved that the city’s new electoral system is “good” and in in line 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 the “one country, two systems” framework, which promised the city some freedoms not found on land, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media mogul Jimmy Lai is escorted by correctional officers into a prison van before appearing in court in Hong Kong on Saturday 1 December. 12, 2020. (AP Photo / Kin Cheung)
(Photo AP / Kin Cheung)

Critics say these freedoms are being eroded as Beijing has exercised greater control over the former British colony in recent years.

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On Sunday morning, three members of the League of Social Democrats, a group of local activists, protested against the election by attempting to march to the polling station by displaying a banner calling for universal suffrage that would allow Hong Kong residents to vote for both the legislature and for the chief executive.

“Human rights over power, the people are greater than the country”, read the banner. “One person, one vote for the CEO. Immediately implement universal double suffrage.”

A protester was handing out leaflets before the police arrived and isolated the protesters and the banner. Police also searched the protesters’ belongings and collected their personal data, although no arrests were immediately made.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has long been calling for universal suffrage, which is said to be 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.

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Lee’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised concern that Beijing may further strengthen its hold on Hong Kong. He has spent most of his career in civilian service in the police and security bureau and is an outspoken and staunch supporter of a national security law enforced in Hong Kong in 2020 to crack down on dissent.

Its rise stemmed from massive anti-government protests in 2019 that resulted in violent clashes. As security secretary, he oversaw the police campaign to confront protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, then rounded up many of them for later arrest.

More than 150 people were arrested under the Security Act, which prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the affairs of the city. Almost all prominent pro-democracy activists have been jailed, while others have fled abroad or been intimidated to silence.

Thousands of residents fled the city of 7.4 million people amid the 2019 protests and subsequent severe pandemic restrictions, including many professionals and expats.

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In his campaign in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s polls, Lee pledged to enact long-shelved local legislation to protect against security threats and vowed to increase the supply of housing in the world’s most expensive housing market.

He also said it will improve the competitiveness of the city and lay a solid foundation for Hong Kong’s development.