Hong Kong Election Live Updates: A Government-Veted Panel Chooses John Lee

By | May 8, 2022
Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

John Lee, a former security chief known for his staunch loyalty to the Chinese government, was chosen as Hong Kong’s next leader on Sunday, through a selection process tightly controlled by Beijing in which he was the only candidate.

Mr. Lee, 64, will replace the unpopular Carrie Lam as the chief executive, Hong Kong’s top job. Under Mrs. Lam’s watch, fierce pro-democracy protests rocked the city in 2019, and China responded with a sweeping national security law that curtailed Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Mr. Lee, who was Hong Kong’s security chief for four years before being appointed last year as chief secretary, the No. 2 position in government, was a key figure in cracking down on the protests in 2019. He then helped the government wield the new security law to decimate the political opposition, leaving the most outspoken figures behind bars or in exile.

Some 1,424 members of an election committee, all vetted by the Hong Kong government, cast votes on Sunday. Mr. Lee had no opponents, and the only choice was to vote in support of him or not. Only eight people voted against him, according to the official results.

Mr. Lee waved and bowed to applauding voters after being declared the winner. “The day of the chief executive election is important to me,” he said. “But today is also Mother’s Day, Buddha’s Birthday and also World Smile Day as designated by the Red Cross. So today we can all very happily welcome such a historical day.” He called his wife, Janet Lam, to the stage and presented her with a bouquet of flowers that someone else had given him.

Mr. Lee, who will be sworn in on July 1, has said that he intends to push a package of new laws on treason, secession, sedition and subversion. The laws, known collectively as Article 23 for the section of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that mandates them, have long been a troublesome issue for Hong Kong’s leaders. The government tried to enact Article 23 legislation in 2003, only to retreat after hundreds of thousands of people turned out to protest.

This time, Mr. Lee won’t face such opposition.

The crackdown that followed the 2019 protest movement has brought Hong Kong’s once-vibrant civil society to heel. News outlets, unions, political parties and human rights groups have closed under government pressure and national security investigations.

Just three demonstrators protested quietly outside the convention center on Sunday, vastly outnumbered by police officers, many of whom were filming them.

In January 2021, the police arrested dozens of opposition politicians and activists, saying their electoral strategy amounted to a subversive plot. Many of them remain in custody, awaiting trial on national security charges that could lead to life imprisonment. The trial has been delayed so long that the delays drew criticism last month from a conservative judge who was handpicked by the government to oversee security trials.

Under Mr. Lee’s administration, the clampdown is expected to extend through Hong Kong’s civil service, which has come under increasing criticism from pro-Beijing politicians since some government employees joined in the 2019 protests. Its workers have also been blamed by the pro-Beijing camp for resisting efforts to carry out mainland-style coronavirus controls, such as extensive lockdowns and mandatory citywide testing.

“We need to make sure the civil service will faithfully implement the policies of the government,” said Lau Siu-kai, an adviser to Beijing on Hong Kong policy. “We need to make sure the discipline system of the civil service is tight to make sure those civil servants who won’t perform will be punished or gotten rid of.”

Tiffany May contributed reporting.

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