Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has governed the global financial hub through the unprecedented upheaval of anti-government protests and Covid-19, has said she will not seek a second five-year term.
Lam’s announcement came as media said Chief Secretary John Lee, Hong Kong’s second-highest ranking official, was set to step down to join the race to replace Lam in May and become the next leader. of the city under Chinese rule.
“There is only one consideration and that is family. I have already told everyone that family is my first priority in terms of consideration. They think it’s time for me to go home,” Lam said in a regular press briefing on Monday.
Lam, born in British-ruled Hong Kong in 1957 and a longtime civil servant who describes herself as a devout Catholic, took office in 2017 with a promise to unite a city that increasingly felt the tightening grip from Beijing.
Two years later, millions of people took to the streets in sometimes violent anti-government protests that ultimately led Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law in June 2020, giving it more power than ever to shape life in Hong Kong.
The city’s leaders are selected by a small election committee made up of Beijing loyalists, so whoever becomes the former British colony’s next ruler will do so with Beijing’s tacit approval.
Lee, 64, a security official during the protracted and often violent 2019 pro-democracy protests, was promoted in 2021 in a move that some analysts said signaled Beijing’s priorities for the city related to security rather than finance or the economy.
Lee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The leadership election has been pushed back from March 27 to give the government time to tackle a Covid outbreak which has infected more than a million of the former British colony’s 7.4 million people.
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has had four chief executives, all of whom have struggled to balance the democratic aspirations of some residents with the vision of Chinese Communist Party leaders.