Hong Kong’s John Lee signs up for top job, says election 'not easy' even if one-horse race

Former Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu holding his nomination form before submitting it to the Returning Officer in Hong Kong on April 13, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - Hong Kong’s chief executive hopeful John Lee on Wednesday (April 13) formally submitted his candidacy to stand for election next month, after garnering nominations from more than half of the city’s 1,500-strong election committee. 

The 786 nominations that Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official said he had received are well above the threshold required for him to qualify to run for the top job. 

The number is also considerably higher than his campaign office’s initial target to obtain the support of one-third of the election committee. 

To stand for election, each candidate has to submit nominations from at least 188 members of the committee – including 15 from each of the powerful body’s five sectors. 

Mr Lee, 64, is expected to be the sole candidate in the May 8 election, for which the  nomination period ends on Thursday. 

Asked by reporters on Wednesday if he considered this “an easy race”, being so far the only candidate in the running, Mr Lee replied: “It is not easy because I have been working very hard to explain to various members (of the election committee) what my election platform will be like. 

“You have seen the efforts that my team and I have been putting into this campaign... I will continue the campaign. It will be hard work because the time that will be taken before it (the election) and afterwards, will be a lot,” he added. 

Even with only one candidate running for the top job, members of the election committee will still have to cast their votes. The candidate must secure more than half of the votes to win the post.

Appearing to address critics’ comments that his three major policy directions for Hong Kong were too vague, Mr Lee stressed that he would continue to collect views through his consultation sessions before fleshing out and finalising his election manifesto. 

He reiterated that 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. 

He has said the current manifesto, put together within a very short time, might not have covered every important aspect, but this did not mean that he does not have his eye on those issues. 

‘Telling the Hong Kong story’

The former security chief and police commissioner has been busy campaigning since he announced his bid to become the city’s next leader on Sunday. 

At a consultation session with members of the election committee that was broadcast live on Tuesday, Mr Lee said the Hong Kong government was lacking in its communication efforts, and vowed to look closely into "how to tell the Hong Kong story well" if he takes office.

The pledge came after an elector from the accountancy sub-sector remarked that Hong Kong's previous administrations had done a lot to develop the city and yet failed to effectively convey the city's prospects to the world as well as its own people.

Mr Lee agreed.

"Besides strengthening our own capabilities, we must also work on our communications," he said.

"I agree that we have needed to brush up on this aspect for many years now. If I am elected, I will explore this issue with the experts and work out how we can together tell the Hong Kong story well."

Reviving security law

At a campaign stop earlier on Tuesday, Mr Lee said reviving a locally shelved  security legislation would be one of his top priorities as Hong Kong's next leader.

Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-Constitution, requires the city to enact its own security laws against treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Chinese government.

Enacting the legislation is not only Hong Kong's constitutional duty, but would also equip the city to handle future challenges, Mr Lee said.

"It is for the good of Hong Kong, because any aspect that will be attacked… will of course have a knock-on effect on other areas. It is for the stability of Hong Kong; without it, we will not be able to have prosperity."

Legislation under Article 23 would complement the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in 2020 following the protracted pro-democracy protests of 2019.

While the Beijing-imposed legislation already broadly outlaws acts of secession, subversion, foreign collusion and terrorism, Hong Kong's own such law would also cover treason, theft of state secrets, and the political activities of foreign political bodies in the city.

In Hong Kong's last attempt to pass the legislation in 2003, an estimated half a million people took to the streets in protest, seeing it as an attempt to clamp down on their freedoms. It has been shelved since then.

Extradition Bill has ‘ended’

Mr Lee's comments on Tuesday came after he said the previous day that he would not seek to reintroduce a controversial extradition Bill that was withdrawn after it triggered massive social unrest in the city in 2019.

"A conclusion was made on that Bill. It has now ended and further discussion is not needed. We have other priorities," he said.

The extradition Bill would have allowed for criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China, among other territories, to face trial.

The objective was to help bring criminals to justice by allowing for case-by-case extraditions to places that lack formal extradition treaties with Hong Kong, but it was seen by many Hong Kong people as potentially undermining judicial independence and endangering dissidents.

Mr Lee, as Secretary of Security at the time, played a key role in the push for that Bill before the protests broke out.

At a media session on Wednesday evening, Mr Lee said: “How many nominations I can get, of course, is a very pleasant thing to know. But what is important is that I should create the maximum consensus, so that my governance will be shared and supported by the majority of the people." 

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