By Shirley Lau
Hong Kong, May 7 (EFE).- When a select group of Hong Kong voters cast their votes to elect the city’s next leader Sunday, they will be given a one-of-a-kind ballot paper — it carries no candidate numbers but only two options: “support” or “not support.” A few hours later, John Lee, the sole candidate who has Beijing’s blessing, is expected to celebrate his victory in the sixth chief executive election in Hong Kong.
For the first time, Hong Kong will have a top leader who is not a businessperson or career civil servant, but a career security official. Many political observers believe that the choice of Lee, a police officer turned hardline security minister, indicates Beijing’s top priority for the Asian financial hub is to maintain political security. That is especially important at a time when geopolitical tensions between China and the West are growing.
“If conflicts, decoupling and even a war between China and the US and other Western countries are an irrevocable trend, then [China] has to be prepared for a war and give top priority to national security,” political commentator and businessman Lew Mon-hung told reporters on Friday. “I believe that is related to the decision to have only one chief executive candidate.”
On Sunday morning, a total of 1,461 members of an elite election committee, who have been vetted for their political loyalty to Beijing, will be eligible to vote. Lee will need at least 751 votes to be the new chief executive of the semiautonomous Chinese city. He will succeed the unpopular Carrie Lam and lead Hong Kong in the next five years.
There is not a shadow of doubt that Lee, 64, will win, not least because he was nominated by 786 election committee members last month, 35 votes in excess of the minimum he needs to secure victory.
In his former position as security chief, Lee played a key role in the Hong Kong authorities’ crackdown on an anti-government, anti-Chinese Communist Party protest movement in 2019, and in the implementation since June 2020 of a national security law imposed by Beijing to quell the increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.
In June 2021, he was promoted to the city’s second-highest public office as chief secretary for administration, a sign of his favor in Beijing.
A Beijing loyalist who rose through the ranks of the police force from 1977 to 2012, Lee has a public image that is more stern than smiling. According to a poll recently conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, public satisfaction with Lee as chief secretary was 34.8 out of 100, the lowest score since he assumed the position.
Since he declared his election bid on April 9, Lee’s campaign team has been working on sprucing up his image and highlighting his friendly, lighthearted side. Former classmates, ex-colleagues and friends also helped to flesh out his personality, saying he was a “lady killer” in secondary school, a high achiever academically and a good Chinese chess player.
But his critics are not impressed, with some voicing doubts over his English and Chinese language abilities. The latest subject of criticism is the grammar in his English campaign slogan “We and us: a new chapter together.”
With a professional background in public security, Lee has little economic policy experience, and that has raised questions over his ability to revive the Hong Kong economy, which in the last two years has been battered by US-China trade tensions, domestic political turmoil and the Covid pandemic.
In the first quarter of 2022, the city’s GDP contracted by 2.9%, compared with zero growth in the last quarter of 2021.
In his election manifesto, Lee presented an economic agenda that is largely in line with Lam’s administration but with more emphasis on home supply and affordability in a city where housing is notoriously costly.
Lee has also said that one of his top priorities is to enact Hong Kong’s own national security law, as required by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. In 2003, a government bill to enact that law was shelved after half a million Hongkongers took to the streets to protest. The legislation will be similar to the Beijing-imposed national security law launched in June 2020, but will come with additional clauses covering state secrets and treason.
Like Carrie Lam, Lee became one of the 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the US government in 2020 for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly”. He cannot enter the US and US persons are not allowed to do business with him.
The sanctions recently led Google to remove Lee’s YouTube campaign channel and Meta to disable the payment features of his Facebook and Instagram pages. In response, Lee called the US government a “bully”.EFE