Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Beijing loyalist John Lee becomes Hong Kong’s next leader in unopposed election

HONG KONG ( Associated Press) — John Lee, a staunch security chief who cracked down on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, was elected on Sunday as the city’s next leader in a vote cast by a largely pro-Beijing committee.

Li was the only candidate and won with over 99% of the vote, with nearly all 1,500 committee members carefully scrutinized by the central government in Beijing.

He will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1. His five-term tenure was marked by pro-democracy protests calling for his resignation, a security crackdown that has quelled nearly all dissent, the recent COVID-19 wave that overwhelmed the health system – events that Western-style liberties have undermined Hong Kong’s reputation as an international trade center.

In his winning speech, Lee said, “I hope that together we will all start a new chapter, building a Hong Kong that is caring, open and vibrant, and a Hong Kong that is full of opportunities and harmony.” “

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Lam congratulated Li in a statement and said she would hand the election results to Beijing.

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

The elaborate arrangements surrounding a predetermined outcome reflect Beijing’s desire for a veneer of democracy. Committee members voted in a secret ballot, and Lee’s 1,416 votes were the highest ever for the city’s top leadership position.

Without the opposition, Li would have an easier time governing Hong Kong than Lam, said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Government and Public Administration.

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“One of the major reasons for easing good governance is that the electoral system has changed,” he said. “In the legislature and the election committee, there is almost no political opposition and the political spectrum is focused towards the pro-establishment camp.”

“By not being democratic, it will be easier for the chief executive to govern as there are fewer checks and balances,” he said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Lee’s election “violates democratic principles and political pluralism in Hong Kong.”

Borrell tweeted, “The selection process is another step towards dismantling the principle of ‘one country, two systems’.

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The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong congratulated Li and said the election was conducted “in a fair, equitable and orderly manner in accordance with laws and regulations”.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council of Mainland China said in its congratulatory note that the “successful election” proved that the city’s new electoral system was “good” and conformed to the “one country, two systems” framework that Governed by Hong Kong.

Critics say the freedoms of speech and assembly that Hong Kong was promised to keep for 50 years when Britain was handed over to China in 1997 have disappeared as Beijing exercises more control over the region.

On Sunday morning, three members of the League of Social Democrats, a local activist group, protested the election by attempting to march towards the election site displaying a banner demanding universal suffrage, which would appeal to the people of Hong Kong in the legislature and head of state. Will allow you to vote for both. executive.

“Human rights at power, people are bigger than the country,” the banner read. “One person, one vote for chief executive. Immediately implement double universal suffrage.”

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Before the police arrived, a demonstrator was dividing the passengers and surrounded them. Police also searched the protesters’ belongings and removed their personal details, although they did not make any immediate arrests.

The pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong has long sought universal suffrage, which they say is promised in its short-lived constitution, the Basic Law. This was a major demand even during the massive protests in 2014 and 2019.

Li’s role as Hong Kong’s next leader has raised concerns that Beijing could tighten its grip. He spent most of his civil service career in the police and security bureaus, and is a staunch supporter of a national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 to quell dissent.

As security secretary during 2019, during clashes between police and protesters, he oversaw the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and arrests fueled further protests.

More than 150 people have been arrested under the Security Act, which prevents secession, sabotage, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in the affairs of the city. Almost all prominent pro-democracy activists have been imprisoned, while others have fled abroad or have been threatened to keep quiet.

Thousands of residents have left the city of 7.4 million people amid the 2019 protests and subsequent harsh pandemic restrictions, including many professionals and migrants.

In his election campaign in the weeks before Sunday’s elections, Lee promised long-pending local legislation to protect against security threats and vowed to increase the supply of housing in the world’s most expensive real estate market.

He also said that he would improve the city’s competitiveness and lay a strong foundation for Hong Kong’s development.

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