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Monday 27th June 2022 / 27 Zulkaedah 1443

Ex-security chief takes over as Hong Kong’s next leader

John Lee was the only candidate in the race. Source: Reuters. 

John Lee was the only candidate in the race. Source: Reuters. 

HONG KONG: A former security chief who oversaw the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement was picked as the new leader of Hong Kong on Sunday by a small committee of Beijing loyalists.

John Lee, 64, was the only candidate in a Beijing-backed race to succeed outgoing leader Carrie Lam. His elevation places a security official in the top job for the first time after a tumultuous few years for a city battered by political unrest and pandemic controls.

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 just 1,461 people.

After a brief secret ballot on Sunday, 1,416 members voted for Lee while eight voted against according to officials. 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, announced.

Protests have been largely outlawed in Hong Kong, with authorities using an anti-coronavirus ban on public gatherings of more than four people as well as a new national security law. According to local media, police provide full security to the exhibition centre and 6,000 to 7,000 officers had been placed on standby.

READ MORE: China postpones Asian Games over Covid concerns

The League of Social Democrats — one of the only remaining pro-democracy groups — held a three-person protest before polls opened, chanting “Power to the people, universal suffrage now”.

Beijing deployed a sweeping security law to stamp out dissent and rolled out a new “patriots only” political system for Hong Kong to guarantee anyone standing for office is considered suitably loyal.

Hong Kong also faces economic difficulties due to two years of strict pandemic curbs that have damaged its business hub reputation and left residents cut off as rivals re-open.

Under the slogan “Starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together”, Lee has vowed to bring in “result-oriented” governance, forge unity and reboot the city’s economy.

A 44-page manifesto he released last week stuck to broad goals and offered few concrete policies or targets. Lee has said he will unveil more details when he makes his first policy address. Outgoing leader Carrie Lam is on track to leave office with record-low approval ratings. 

China agreed that Hong Kong could maintain certain freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after retaking control from Britain under a “One Country, Two Systems” formula. Lee is one of 11 senior Hong Kong and Beijing officials sanctioned by the United States because of the political crackdown.

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