Leung Chun-ying is the first chief executive to refrain from seeking re-election since Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
HONG KONG — Leung Chun-ying, the unpopular Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong whose government has tried to block or remove elected opposition politicians from office, said Friday that he would not seek a second term.
“I must make a responsible choice between fulfilling my responsibilities to society and to my family,” he said at a news conference, adding that a campaign would impose “unbearable stress” on his family.
Leung has occupied the post of chief executive, the city’s highest office, since 2012. He is the first chief executive to refrain from seeking re-election since Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Critics of Leung have viewed whether he would run as a sign of the Chinese government’s endorsement of his hard-line policies in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous territory. In the past few years, under Leung’s leadership, concerns have grown in the city over an erosion in civil liberties and, more recently, a crackdown on political opposition.
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“Everyone in Hong Kong can see that the central authorities, including the top leaders in the country, have been very supportive of my work over all these years,” he said, a denial that he was dropping out because of Beijing’s disapproval.
In a statement, the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said it was “regretful” of Leung’s decision not to run and praised his contribution in upholding national sovereignty and stability in Hong Kong.
Leung will stay in office for six months until the inauguration of his successor, who will be selected in March.
Leung was accused last week of waging a “coup” as he tried to unseat four elected pro-democracy legislators with a legal challenge over the way they took their oaths of office. An earlier judicial review that he initiated disqualified two separatists from taking places in the legislature, but his move to challenge the four seated lawmakers, who do not advocate Hong Kong’s independence from China, was seen as a broader crackdown on opposition.
The six politicians targeted by Leung were among more than 10 who inserted political statements into their oaths of office in October. Two of them, the pro-independence Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, added an alternative name for China that many see as derogatory, and pledged allegiance to the Hong Kong “nation,” prompting a rare legal intervention from the Chinese government.
In the four years since Leung took office, Hong Kong has had large street protests demanding greater democracy amid wide-ranging economic grievances, including housing in a property market regularly ranked as one of the world’s least affordable.
In the Friday news conference, Leung did not provide details about his family issues, although the local media reported this week that he had visited a hospital where his daughter was said to be receiving treatment. “My daughter has only one father, and my wife has only one husband,” he said Friday.
In a widely reported episode in 2015, Leung said his older daughter, Leung Chai-yan, had health problems after she accused him and her mother of abuse.
Leung has two daughters and a son.
The chief executive is selected by an elite committee dominated by Beijing loyalists.