Carrie Lam says she's staying put … for now
If the relationship between the chief executive and his No 2 is strained, as some say, it wouldn't be the first time
A dozen years ago, we had the "Tung-Chan partnership"; now it's the "Leung-Lam partnership".
And once again there's talk of strains in the relationship between the government's top two people.
Both relationships showed initial promise but that between Tung Chee-hwa and his chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang was known to have soured months before she quit in 2001, citing personal reasons.
Ironically, it is Chan who has now sparked speculation about tension between Leung Chun-ying and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor by saying the chief secretary might quit if the chief executive continued to put her in an insignificant role.
Chan's remarks on Wednesday have sparked a double denial from Leung and a declaration from Lam that she hasn't thought of quitting "in this term".
Comparison between the two partnerships is inevitable given the similarities - Tung and Leung came from outside the government and Chan and Lam were career civil servants. Both No 2s enjoyed a much higher popularity rating than their superiors.
Chan started tongues wagging when she said on a radio phone-in programme: "Based on some of Lam's public comments, I sensed that ... before [some initiatives were] rolled out, the chief secretary did not have a chance to voice her opinions or suggestions."
Hitting back on Thursday, Leung said: "Lam is very helpful and I respect her opinions."
He added yesterday that "nobody has any intentions or plans to leave their positions".
Lam also appeared to clear away some clouds yesterday, saying she "has never thought about not serving the government in this term".
"I have not been in touch with Chan for a very long time, but I thank her for her concern," she said. "I have a lot of work to do, so it is impossible to say I am in an insignificant role. The chief executive has asked me to handle many inter-departmental issues."
Lawmaker, executive councillor and former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee described Chan's remarks as speculation.
"I doubt Anson has spoken to Carrie on the matter," she said. "They don't belong to the same generation."
A year ago, Ip said, she thought Leung and Lam might have some difficulty working together because of their different backgrounds. But "one year on, they are working more harmoniously and have built a good working relationship".
Veteran democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming said Lam was one of the most popular senior officials in the government. "She is single-handedly preventing Leung's administration from falling apart," he said. "She has to make her own decision about whether she wants to carry on."