A hardline former security minister, John Lee, has been confirmed as the next chief executive of Hong Kong.
On Sunday, a pro-Beijing election committee of around 1,500 members voted on the successor to outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam. Lee was the only candidate to stand. He received the votes of 1,416 of a total of 1,424 delegates.
The 64-year-old is considered a political hardliner and is notorious for his absolute loyalty to the Chinese central government. He is controversial in Hong Kong for his active role in the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019.
In the summer of 2020, the Chinese government installed a vaguely worded national security law for Hong Kong, effectively criminalizing political opposition in the former British colony. Most of the critical politicians and activists are now in prison or have withdrawn from public life.
Many of the independent media have also been shut down or banned by the authorities under pressure from the government.
Lee faces enormous tasks in the coming years: During the pandemic, the international financial hub suffered greatly due to rigid border closures and quarantine regulations.
Hong Kong's economic output slumped by 4% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period last year. At the same time, the city is plagued by increasing social inequalities. In addition, the heated property market with its extremely expensive housing is a key problem for the population.
Lee was regarded as the favoured candidate of the Chinese central government, above all because of his security policy competencies. Beijing expects his appointment to bring stability to the metropolis, which is plagued by political unrest.
Lee joined the police force at the age of 19. A short time later, he made a career in Hong Kong's security apparatus.
In 2017, he was promoted to head of security of the Special Administrative Region as Hong Kong is designated under the agreement that was supposed to grant the city a wide degree of autonomy for 50 years after Britain handed the colony back to China in 1997.
Critics argue that Beijing has been eroding that autonomy and Lee has been instrumental in silencing dissent.
In August 2020, Lee was sanctioned by the US government under former president Donald Trump. The politician was accused of undermining Hong Kong's internationally pledged autonomy.
In April this year, YouTube blocked Lee's campaign channel. The company also justified the measure with the existing US sanctions.
On behalf of the European Union, EU External Relations Commissioner Josep Borrell criticized the election process.
"The European Union regrets this violation of democratic principles and political pluralism and sees this selection process as yet another step in the dismantling of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle," Borrell announced on Sunday.
Borrell said the EU calls on the authorities in China and Hong Kong to abide by their national and international commitments - including the goal of universal suffrage in the selection of the chief executive and the Legislative Council.
He criticized the fact that the number of electors for the election committee had been significantly reduced. This, he said, had further weakened the democratic elements in Hong Kong's government.