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Carrie Lam

How Hong Kong’s new leader Carrie Lam can show she is not ‘CY 2.0’

Raymond Mak says the incoming Hong Kong chief executive must listen to the people as well as act, and that includes reaching out to pan-democrats to heal the political divide

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 6:22pm

Since she won the chief executive election in late March, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been working to put together her new cabinet. With her governing style and stated policy direction, will she be able to shake off the label of “CY 2.0”, a moniker given by those who saw her as a hardline leader in the mould of incumbent Leung Chun-ying?

Lam spent long years in the civil service and has a reputation for executing difficult policies. As a political appointee, she positioned herself as someone who prefers to get into the nuts and bolts of policymaking, rather than play politics.

To govern effectively, Carrie Lam should look beyond civil service

She has not been successful in handling complicated political issues, however. Her failure to push through a political reform package in 2015 was seen as a major setback.

During her campaign, Lam championed policies relating to social and livelihood issues, such as housing and the tax system, while avoiding sensitive political issues, such as national security legislation and Hong Kong’s constitutional development. It is likely that this will continue under her administration.

To realise her plan of putting good policies first, she has to recruit people from all sides to join her team, including those from outside the establishment camp. But despite her efforts, most pan-democrats are reluctant to be part of her team. In view of this, we can expect the new chief executive to face significant challenges right from the start of her term.

Nevertheless, the new administration can win some support from moderate pan-democrats by picking the low-hanging fruit. One would be abolishing the hated Territory-wide System Assessment for Primary Three students, which she has pledged to do. Another would be the proper use of administrative power.

First group of Hong Kong pan-democrats to have met Carrie Lam are willing to give her ‘benefit of the doubt’

Lam should take a lesson from the stunning popularity of her rival candidate in the election, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, which showed that Hong Kong people were willing to support a pro-establishment chief executive as long as he or she would speak up for the people and safeguard the city’s core values.

If Lam can be a chief executive who communicates with the people, voices their concerns and works hard to implement policies that will benefit them, the incoming administration will have a better chance of winning over the public.

Under Leung’s rule, there were fissures within the establishment camp. Lam’s election, with Beijing’s blessing, presents an opportunity to reforge unity. However, she still has to resolve the government’s tensions with the pan-democratic camp over the issues of political reform, the lead-in-water scandal and the Palace Museum saga, or it will be hard for her to govern Hong Kong.

‘The work of uniting society begins now’: Carrie Lam pledges to heal Hong Kong’s divide

What role should the pan-democrats play, then?

The current political environment presents a great opportunity for the pan-democrats. If they are able to collaborate with the government in the next five years, Hong Kong is likely to see positive results on social and political issues.

Pan-democrats should assume more responsibility in advocating good policies and feasible political reform, both within and outside the Legislative Council, in the next five years. The last thing pan-democrats should do is equate the Leung administration with Lam’s government.

Lam should reach out to the pan-democrats without delay, communicating openly to enable more opportunities for collaboration between legislators and the administration. Given the focus on policies, the pan-democrats will also need to be well-prepared for detailed policy discussions.

Although both Leung and Lam were both backed by Beijing, we should not assume Lam will follow in Leung’s footsteps in terms of governance style.

Can Carrie Lam steer Hong Kong to greatness again?

Hong Kong people should give their new chief executive the benefit of the doubt and allow her some time to demonstrate her commitment to healing a divided society.

Her team and policies in the next few months will tell us whether she can differentiate herself from Leung and ultimately improve society.

Raymond Mak Ka-chun is governor of the Path of Democracy