Hong Kong, John Lee sole candidate to lead city executive

Beijing wants no surprises in replacement for controversial Carrie Lam. The city's leader is to be chosen by a restricted election committee loyal to the central government. The reopening of the border with mainland China, closed due to Covid-19, is among Lee's priorities. The city leader in pectore invites the democratic camp to submitt suggestions "in writing".


Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - From Beijing's supposed candidate to lead the city executive, it would now appear that John Lee is the only one running for the post. The central government does not want any surprises when it comes to replacing Carrie Lam, disgraced by her handling of the pandemic and democracy protests, and is squashing all competition that gave a semblance of democracy to the election of the local leader.

The appointment of the city premier is scheduled for 8 May, after being postponed due to the re-emergence of the coronavirus emergency. Far from any democratic standards, the vote is the prerogative of a pro-Beijing Election Committee, which local authorities describe as "representative" of all voters: in reality, it is made up of 1,462 members overwhelmingly aligned with the national leadership, who will decide for more than 7 million citizens.

In March 2021, the Chinese leadership passed a law allowing only 'patriots' to govern Hong Kong: a way to exclude democratic candidates from the city's electoral contests.

Today, the commission that evaluates candidates for election offices in Hong Kong gave the (discounted) green light to Lee, who until the announcement of his run was Lam's number two. As Security Secretary, he organised the machine that ensures the enforcement of the draconian National Security Act. Imposed by Beijing in the summer of 2020, the measure has effectively silenced the democratic opposition.

The nomination control commission, headed by Lee until his resignation as chief executive secretary, only received his application, although others had previously expressed their intention to run for office. It should be remembered that under Lee's leadership, the selection body approved the appointment of the current members of the Election Committee.

Since the handover from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Hong Kong has only had two instances of a single-candidate Chief Executive election: that of Tung Chee-hwa in 2002 and Donald Tsang in 2005.

Lee has not presented an election manifesto so far. In recent days, however, he has said that his priorities will include reopening the border with mainland China, now closed due to the Covid-19 emergency, and passing a local security law. The one now in force was introduced by Beijing, not by Hong Kong's executive. In 2002-2003, pro-democracy protests attended by hundreds of thousands of people scuttled an attempt to legislate on the issue.

The Hong Kong Free Press noted that when the press asked Lee today whether he would meet with members of the pro-democracy camp, he said he would "listen to everyone's views". However, he stressed that time constraints prevented him from organising meetings in person or by video conference, and invited interested parties to submit "written" proposals. Since the imposition of the security law, the city's main democratic leaders have ended up in prison or in exile, or have abandoned active politics.