Hong Kong, May 7 (EFE).- John Lee, the sole candidate in Hong Kong’s chief executive election, won 99.2 percent of votes cast by the city’s pro-Beijing elites Sunday to become the next leader of the Asian financial hub.
A total of 1,428 out of 1,461 members of an election committee – the only people in the city of 7.4 million eligible to vote – cast their ballots Sunday morning, resulting in a high turnout of 97.74 percent.
Among the 1,428 voters, 1,416 voted for and eight against Lee, a police officer turned hardline security minister who ran unopposed with Beijing’s blessing. Four ballots were invalid. The poll began at 09.00 (GMT 01.00) and lasted for two and a half hours. The result was announced at around 12.30 at the Convention and Exhibition Center, a major landmark in Hong Kong.
The ballots that went to the 64-year-old was the highest proportion of votes won by a Hong Kong chief executive election candidate ever since such a poll was introduced in 1997, the year marking the handover of the ex-British colony’s sovereignty to China.
Speaking to the press after his win, Lee, who will succeed current leader Carrie Lam and take office on Ju. 1, thanked his team, journalists and supporters. He called the election campaign “an incredibly rewarding, inspiring and memorable experience.” He also said Hong Kong would move to a new stage of development.
“Having restored orders from chaos, it is high time Hong Kong [started] a new chapter of development, a chapter that will be geared towards greater prosperity for all,” he said.
Lee was security chief when Hong Kong was roiled by an anti-government protest movement that erupted in 2019. He has also played a decisive role in implementing a harsh national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 to end the increasingly violent protests. In June 2021, he was promoted to chief secretary for administration, the second-highest public office in Hong Kong.
In his speech, he enumerated a series of tasks he will face in his term, including “safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, national security and development interest”, protecting Hong Kong “from internal and external threats” and consolidating Hong Kong’s status as a metropolitan.
The most pressing task, however, is to increase land and housing supply, Lee said. That will involve streamlining procedures and establishing two action groups headed by government ministers. He also vowed to optimize the healthcare system and create opportunities for young people.
Asked whether he would speed up the constitutional reform, which involves introducing universal suffrage as promised in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, Lee said that will not be among his priorities. The constitutional reform is a hot-button issue that previously touched off intense political clashes in Hong Kong, including a 79-day protest movement in 2014, which in turn sowed the seed for the much bigger anti-government protests in 2019.
The sixth chief executive election today, which had been postponed by six weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was the first such contest held since Beijing imposed sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system last year.
The electoral reform was aimed at ensuring patriots govern the semi-autonomous Chinese city. It represented part of Beijing’s effort to strengthen its control over Hong Kong following the 2019 protests.
Under the reform, the elite election committee was expanded from 1,200 to 1,500 members, but the number of people representing different sectors who could choose the 1,500 was drastically slashed from some 250,000 to about 7,900. The rest of the population played no part in the poll.
Lee is the first Hong Kong leader who is not a businessperson or career civil servant, but an official with a professional background in public security.
Some political observers believe that the choice of Lee as the city’s fifth leader indicates Beijing’s top priority for the Asian financial hub is to maintain political security at a time when tensions between China and the West are on the rise.
Lee was one of the 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the United States government in 2020 for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly”. The sanctions recently led Google to remove Lee’s YouTube campaign channel. In response, Lee called the US government a “bully.” EFE