John Lee, a former police officer and security chief, has been confirmed as Hong Kong’s next leader after a rubber-stamp election in which he was the only candidate.
Members of a 1,500-person election committee – representing 0.02 per cent of the city’s 7.4 million population – met on Sunday to cast their votes for the city’s next chief executive. With a turnout rate of 97.74 per cent, Mr. Lee received 1,416 votes, while eight were cast against him.
“I am honoured to be elected,” Mr. Lee said after his victory was confirmed. “I thank the election committee for their votes. I can serve the city, the country and the Hong Kong people in this new position.”
Hong Kongers have never been able to freely elect their leaders. During the colonial era, governors were appointed by Britain, while since the city’s 1997 handover to China, chief executives have been chosen by a “broadly representative” election committee, with Beijing making clear which candidate members should vote for.
When current chief executive Carrie Lam stood in 2017, she had two opponents in the race, though she was never in doubt of winning. Ms. Lam was selected with 777 votes.
After intense anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing moved to shore up even greater control over Hong Kong, passing a national security law that has been used to crack down on the pro-democracy opposition, and changing the election system so that only “patriots” can win office.
Despite Mr. Lee having no opponents, he went through the motions of running a normal election campaign, naming business and political luminaries to an advisory body, releasing a manifesto and erecting posters all over the city. He even held an election rally, to which the public was not invited because of coronavirus restrictions.
Speaking after his inevitable victory Sunday, Mr. Lee said he would “try my best to further convince whoever disagrees with me.”
He defended his election as “run according to the laws of Hong Kong,” and said it was “not my priority” to carry out any electoral reform expanding the franchise to more people.
Instead, Mr. Lee, who oversaw an often heavy-handed police response to the 2019 protests, will focus on passing yet more security legislation. He said he will pass a package of laws known as Article 23, criminalizing treason, secession, sedition and subversion. This will further expand powers already created by the national security legislation imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020.
“We will continue to uphold the rule of law, which is a core pillar of our sound governance, and tackle future challenges with absolute confidence, safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, national security and development interest, protecting Hong Kong from internal and external threats,” Mr. Lee said.
In a statement Sunday, the Chinese government congratulated Mr. Lee, saying his selection “has once again proven the advanced superiority of the new electoral system.”
Beijing praised the former security chief for having “taken a firm stand in the process of stopping violence and controlling chaos and implementing Hong Kong’s national security law,” adding he had the trust of “the vast majority of Hong Kong residents.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.