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.
“The central authorities including the top leaders in the country have been very supportive of my work all these years,” Leung told reporters 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.”
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 in Hong Kong 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 from Leung and Beijing 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.
Leung said that he was stepping down out of “responsibility as a father and a husband” and that it was not to do with his performance as leader.
Reports in local media have said that Leung’s daughter Leung Chai-yan, 25, has been in hospital for more than a month, although the reasons are unclear.
Leung said he did not want to give further details of his family situation.
His daughter hit the headlines in 2015 after slapping her mother Regina Tong in front of revellers in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong bar district after a Halloween party.
She has also publicly criticized her her mother and in 2015 announced she was leaving home because of explosive rows with her parents.