Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive Leung Chun-ying made a surprise announcement on Friday that he will not seek re-election in 2017 because of family reasons.
Leung, who has been in office since July 2012, was the target of pro-democracy protesters because of his pro-China views.
Addressing the media, Leung said he had to take care of his family in the future. China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying he was making the decision to prevent his family from “facing unbearable pressures resulting from electioneering if he runs for the election”.
“As a husband and father I have a responsibility...My daughter has only one father, and my wife has only one husband,” he said.
Leung, the report said, had stressed that the central authorities had been very supportive of his work all these years.
“I shall support whoever wins the election and whoever is capable of being appointed by the Central People's Government,” he added.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region that is ruled by Beijing under the “one country, two systems” arrangement since 1997, when the region was transferred from the United Kingdom to China.
According to Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper, Leung, while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Peru last month, had said President Xi Jinping approved of his work in office. But the chief executive later said the remarks should not be interpreted as an endorsement of further political ambitions.
In late 2014, Leung was buffeted by pro-democracy protests that shut down the city of 7 million for days.
The “Occupy Central” protesters were demanding electoral reforms and were opposed to Beijing’s decision to vet candidates who would be up for election in 2017. Much of the protesters’ ire was focussed on Leung.
Beijing had fully backed him and a front-page editorial in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, supported Leung and made it clear he would not be asked to step down.
Beijing “will...continue to strongly support Mr Leung's leadership of Hong Kong's legal administration as well as the police's handling of illegal activities”, the editorial said. Any government move to ask Leung to step down at that time would have meant a loss of face for the Communist Party.