Beijing loyalist John Lee elected as Hong Kong’s next leader

HONG KONG (AP) — John Lee was elected as Hong Kong’s next leader Sunday, after winning over 99% of votes cast by a largely pro-Beijing election committee.

Lee received 1,416 votes in the chief executive election, far exceeding the 751 votes he needed to win and the highest support ever for the city’s top leadership position. The Election Committee’s nearly 1,500 members cast their votes in a secret ballot Sunday morning.

“I look forward to all of us starting a new chapter together, building a Hong Kong that is caring, open and vibrant, and a Hong Kong that is full of opportunities and harmony,” Lee said in his victory speech.

Lee will replace current leader Carrie Lam on July 1.

As the only candidate in the polls, Lee was widely expected to win, especially since he had Beijing’s endorsement and last month, 786 nominations from members of the Election Committee obtained in support of his candidacy.

Lam congratulated Lee in a statement and said she would submit the election results to Beijing.

“The present-term government and I will ensure a seamless transition with the Chief Executive-elect. We will render all the support needed for the assumption of office by the new term of government,” Lam’s statement said.

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

The elaborate arrangements surrounding the pre-determined outcome speak to Beijing’s desire for a veneer of democracy. Though they voted in a secret ballot, Hong Kong’s electors were all carefully vetted.

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

“Lee received many nominations and was elected with a high number of 1,4 votes. This is not only the solemn choice of the election committee, but also a strong expression of public opinion,” the statement read.

Mainland China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council also congratulated Lee in a statement, saying the “successful election” proved that the city’s new electoral system is “good” and in line with the “one country, two systems” framework that Hong Kong is governed by.

The statement added that the new chief executive will lead the Hong Kong government and “people from all walks of life to forge ahead in unity.”

The British handed Hong Kong over to mainland China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework, which promised the city certain freedoms not found on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Critics say these freedoms are being eroded as Beijing has exerted greater control over the former British colony in recent years.

On Sunday morning, three members of the League of Social Democrats, a local activist group, protested the election by attempting to march toward the election venue while displaying a banner demanding universal suffrage that would allow Hong Kongers to vote both for the legislature and the chief executive.

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