Former Hong Kong Chief Secretary and security official John Lee announced on Wednesday that he is running for election to become chief executive of the global financial hub.
Lee, 64, led the crackdown on pro-democracy and anti-government protests in Hong Kong during 2019, which occurred in response to the proposed Fugitive Offenders Ordinance amendment bill that would allow extradition of fugitives to mainland China.
Over a million people flooded the streets of Hong Kong to fight the bill, but after violent suppression efforts from the government, the protests soon grew to become a broader anti-government movement. Hong Kong police arrested 53 officials and activists. Lee, then secretary of security, defended the move as one necessary to keep the city from becoming a “bottomless abyss.”
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Lee’s announcement comes two days after Carrie Lam, who has been Hong Kong’s chief executive since 2017, said that she would be stepping down from her position, citing her family as the main reason for her decision.
“[My family thinks] it is time for me to go home,” she said.
Lam dealt with a series of unprecedented challenges this past year, including the city facing the world’s highest COVID-19 death rate. Crematoriums were overwhelmed with more than 900,000 new cases in March, unable to keep up with the number of bodies.
Lee was promoted to chief secretary, Hong Kong’s second highest post, in 2021 after serving as a deputy commissioner of police.
In a Wednesday press conference, he said, “This afternoon I have tendered to the chief executive my resignation… I indicated in the letter the reason for my resignation is that if my resignation is approved by the Central People’s Government [of China], I shall plan to prepare to stand for the upcoming chief executive election.”
Lee is the first government official to place a bid for Hong Kong’s top position. If he wins, he would be the first security official to lead Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese rule from the British in 1997.
Hong Kong’s chief executive election is scheduled for May 8.