New Hong Kong leader John Lee spent $1.1m on election campaign in which he was sole candidate

Hong Kong’s new chief executive, John Lee, received almost HK$11.3m (US$1.4m) in donations during his election campaign earlier this year, according to official filings released on Monday. Lee had run for the city’s top job in May via a small-circle election in which he was the only candidate.

Lee spent around HK$9m (US$1.1m) of the donations on his campaign, the majority of which were split between advertisements, gatherings, office rent and transportation. The majority of advertising costs, around HK$2m, went to social media advertising, while HK$710,000 of funds allotted for office rent and transportation was spent on security. The unused funds were donated to local charity the Community Chest of Hong Kong, the filing said.

Lee’s social media campaign in the lead-up to his election included Facebook and Instagram posts promoting his candidature for office. Posts included cartoon images featuring quotes and detailing his proposed policies with the tagline “Brother Chiu can help you”, in reference to Lee’s Chinese name Lee Ka-Chiu.

The donations came from 59 pro-Beijing business and community groups, according to local media reports. Lee, who along with 11 other Hong Kong and Chinese officials is under US sanctions for his role in the crackdown on dissent in the former British colony, received the donations in cash, and bought three banknote counters and a safe for the funds.

Beijing overhauled the city’s electoral processes in early 2021, cutting direct representation and introducing a “patriots only” requirement in a move that critics say ensured no candidate could be chosen without the support of the central authorities.

Under the new system, a committee of about 1,500 mostly pro-Beijing business and other stakeholders choose the city’s leader in closed-circle elections from vetted candidates.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy political opposition has been all but crushed under a national security crackdown since mid-2020, with the overwhelming majority behind bars pending trial, withdrawn from public life or in self-imposed exile.

Lee’s spend on social media advertisements was more than six times that of previous chief executive Carrie Lam’s election campaign in 2017. Lam spent about $300,000 on running her Facebook page during closed-circle elections against two other nominated candidates. Lam in 2017 had raised around HK$18.7m and spent HK$12.5m.

Under Hong Kong’s election laws in 2022, the maximum amount of expenses a chief executive candidate can incur during an election campaign is $17.6m.

Lee’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the donations.

The former security chief, widely seen as a hardliner and staunch Beijing loyalist, was sworn in as Hong Kong’s chief executive on Friday last week by Chinese president Xi Jinping on the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule.

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