By Elaine Yu, AFP
HONG KONG–Hong Kong’s unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying, who has been vilified by critics as a puppet of Beijing, said Friday he would not run again for office after a term marked by anti-China protests and political divisions. Leung said he would step down at the end of his term in July for family reasons after speculation intensified in recent weeks over who would get the nod from Beijing for leadership elections in March. Pro-democracy campaigners said there would be “euphoria” at the news, while analysts said the announcement had come as a surprise, just three months before the election in which Leung was widely expected to run for a second term. Leung said Beijing had been “very supportive” of his work when asked the reasons for his departure.
“I’ve already reported my decision to the central government and the central government has expressed their understanding,” he added. Leung took office in 2012 as concerns were growing that Beijing was tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city and his opponents have slammed him as a hardline leader overseeing the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms. His term has been one of political crises with massive pro-democracy rallies in 2014 bringing tens of thousands onto the streets calling for reform and for Leung to step down.
The failure of the protests to win any concessions left the city starkly divided between pro-establishment and pro-democracy camps and sparked an independence movement calling for the city to break entirely from Beijing. China has expressed its fury over the movement, which it says is illegal and will damage Hong Kong’s prosperity. Last month two democratically elected lawmakers who support a split from China were barred from taking up their seats after an intervention from Beijing. A group of more moderate pro-democracy lawmakers are facing a court case Thursday brought by the government which is also seeking to remove them from the legislature. Cautious Celebrations Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said some would be overjoyed at Leung’s decision but warned that campaigners should not be complacent as the system for choosing the city’s leader remains skewed. The chief executive is chosen by a 1,200-strong committee of special interest groups weighted towards Beijing. “Whoever is chief executive is still going to be hand-picked by Beijing,” Mo told AFP.