John Lee makes bid for Hong Kong’s top job as conductor of ‘new symphony’ for city

Former deputy leader John Lee is the first person to announce a bid for Hong Kong's top post. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official John Lee formally announced his bid to run for the top job on Saturday (April 9), promising a “new symphony” for the city for which he would be “the conductor”, and listing three key policy areas in his strategy as the next leader. 

Mr Lee, 64, is the first person to declare his intention to run in the chief executive election on May 8. He is expected to be the sole candidate in the race. 

“I now announce my decision to stand for the election for the sixth-term chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” he said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon. 

“This decision is made out of my loyalty to the country, my love for Hong Kong, and my sense of duty to the Hong Kong people. I am confident that I will rise up to the greatest challenge in my public service career." 

Mr Lee said the three key policy areas of focus for his campaign are to ensure results-oriented governance, to grow Hong Kong’s competitiveness, and to consolidate a firm foundation for its development. 

Among his plans would be to accelerate work being done to resolve Hong Kong’s chronic housing shortage. He also pledged to safeguard the rule of law and ensure long-term stability of the city. 

"In the past two years or so, I have witnessed Hong Kong’s restoration of order from chaos, and the opening up of opportunities for development and reform. I truly believe that the next five years will be a critical time for Hong Kong to move from the present stage of order towards an era of prosperity underpinned by effective governance," he said from behind a podium that bore the slogan “Starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together”. 

He added: "This new chapter will be a new symphony. Being the conductor, I will ensure that each member will be able to leverage his or her strengths to create the synergy effect of ‘one plus one is greater than two’. Together we will play a more splendid new piece for Hong Kong." 

Mr Lee is a career policeman who spent 35 years in the disciplinary forces before he was promoted to deputy, and then head, of the Security Bureau. If he does take on the top job, it would be his third promotion in five years. 

Observers have cited Mr Lee’s relative lack of experience in governance and policymaking as potential shortcomings if he were to become Hong Kong’s next leader. 

He has also been said to lack a deep network of contacts across sectors of the Hong Kong society compared with the previous and current chief executives. 

Asked by reporters on Saturday to comment on these views, the chief executive hopeful replied that "only God” could possibly fulfil the long list of qualities required of the top leader. 

His lack of ties “is precisely to ensure that the Hong Kong government can be fair to everyone”, with the new leader focusing on Hong Kong’s overall interests rather than any particular sector, he added. 

Mr Lee aims to build up a strong team of capable people in his would-be government, with the necessary knowledge and expertise as well as passion for Hong Kong. 

“Nobody will know everything. What is important is for the chief executive to build a team with all the expertise and passion,” he said. 

“I want to make sure that this team will have a strong team spirit... where we have a ‘we and us’ culture, instead of a ‘you and us’ culture... together, we will create the ‘one plus one’.” 

Mr Lee deftly sidestepped a request for his view on Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s performance in office. 

“I can only say that everyone in the government works very diligently to ensure the people’s well-being,” he said. 

Mr Lee’s resignation this week from his role as chief secretary in the incumbent leader’s administration was accepted by China’s State Council on Friday. 

The election on May 8 is widely expected to be a one-man race, with local media having cited sources among the city’s political elite as saying that Beijing has already made known that it will endorse Mr Lee as the solo candidate. 

Analysts say Beijing’s support for Mr Lee’s bid signals its priorities for Hong Kong, which was in 2019 rocked by months of widespread and often-violent pro-democracy protests that culminated in China’s imposition of a national security law the following year. 

“The electors of the chief executive will typically take into account what Beijing thinks. When it comes to Hong Kong, in the eyes of Beijing, the watch words will likely be ‘stability’ and ‘security’,” said Dr Yew Wei Lit, a lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University’s department of government and international studies. 

“In addition to having experience in the Hong Kong government Cabinet, he was specifically in charge of security when the 2019 anti-extradition protests happened, besides also overseeing the implementation of the national security Bill.”

Former chief executive Leung Chun Ying expressed his support for Mr Lee soon after the formal announcement.

He wrote on his Facebook page: “The past three years of upheaval for Hong Kong due to the anti-extradition protests and the coronavirus pandemic, have greatly affected the lives of its people, the city’s reputation, as well as foreigners’ confidence in it… But Hong Kong remains a city full of opportunities.”

He urged people across sectors to unite under Hong Kong’s next leader to rebuild the city and its economy. 

Earlier this week, Hong Kong’s four biggest property tycoons had also issued statements separately expressing their support for Mr Lee.

Media reports said the public show of support even before Mr Lee’s formal announcement of his bid, signalled that he had already received the tacit approval of some of the Hong Kong business community’s most powerful people. 

The two-week nomination period opened last Sunday. Each candidate has to secure at least 188 nominations from the 1,500-strong election committee to qualify to run, as well as at least 15 votes from each of its five sectors. 

Mr Leung has been widely tipped to be appointed as chief convenor of the election committee that will decide on the new chief executive. 

The new leader will take office on July 1.

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