Ex-chief secretary John Lee has been approved to stand in May’s small-circle leadership race as the sole candidate. Lee, a former police officer and Hong Kong security chief, is reported to be the only person to have received Beijing’s blessing to succeed Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

John Lee
John Lee’s new campaign website at johnlee2022.hk appeared to go live on Monday. Photo: HKFP screenshot.

The government said in a Monday press release that the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee had approved the 64-year-old’s run, after 786 valid nominations were received by the April 14 deadline. Only one election application was received, despite other hopefuls expressing an interest in the top job.

Until Lee resigned as chief secretary, he himself was chair of the electoral vetting committee. Last year, the committee – under Lee’s chairmanship – approved the 1,462 voters who will ultimately cast ballots on May 8. As the sole candidate, Lee is expected to be chosen as the city’s next leader by the circle of establishment elites, who the authorities claim are broadly representative.

John Lee
John Lee (centre). Photo: John Lee, via Facebook.

For approving Lee’s run, the vetting committee was chaired by finance chief Paul Chan. Other members included the Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang, Secretary for Security Chris Tang, along with three other pro-Beijing figures who are non-official members: Elsie Leung, Rita Fan and Lawrence Lau.

Uncontested race

Lee has still not published a manifesto. However, in recent days, he has suggested his administration may regulate crowdfunding, and he has backed Lam’s restructuring of the government. He also said his administration’s priorities would include the reopening the mainland border amid Covid-19, as well as legislating Hong Kong’s own security law.

“My experience of discussing border reopening with the mainland in the past tells me that we must honestly explain Hong Kong’s situation to them. And we should understand what mainland requirements are in order to find a solution,” he told the press on Monday according to RTHK.

Electoral overhaul
A banner in Hong Kong promoting the electoral overhaul. Photo: GovHK.

Lee also launched a campaign website over the Easter break at johnlee2022.hk.

There have been two uncontested chief executive races in the past. The city’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was automatically re-elected when he ran unopposed in 2002. His successor, Donald Tsang, was also elected automatically after he became the sole candidate in 2005.

In March, 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.