City Beat

Can Carrie Lam make an entrance if CY Leung refuses to go gentle into that good night?

Transition set to be bumpy as no outgoing leader wants to be seen as a lame duck, but a successor will want to establish his or her own style

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 May, 2017, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 May, 2017, 9:35pm

What was that again about Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying running a sunset government? It seems to be quite the opposite, looking at his recent moves.

Far from fading gently into the night as he prepares to step down when his term expires at the end of June, Hong Kong’s outgoing leader seems to be going all out to prove he’s no lame duck.

In fact he seems more proactive and combative than ever, especially in trading barbs with his enemies from the pan-democratic camp. They are seeking to impeach him over accusations that he secretly interfered in a Legislative Council select committee investigation into his failure to declare the HK$50 million he was paid by Australian engineering firm UGL before taking up office five years ago.

CY Leung is basking in his new role as a state leader

It’s not only sparring with the pan-democrats that Leung has been busy with. He took his ministers on a tour of the Greater Bay Area in Guangdong for future cooperation. He led a big delegation to the “Belt and Road Initiative” forum in Beijing to promote Hong Kong as a “super connector” for President Xi Jinping’s grand pet project to build a new Silk Road. And he got started on his novel, yet controversial, idea of building public housing on the fringes of country parks.

Then, with just over a month left on the job, his government rolled out a new round of cooling measures last week, aimed at curbing speculation that has been fanning runaway property prices. He even managed to make a day trip to Beijing last Thursday to pay his last respects to former vice premier Qian Qichen, whose funeral was attended by Xi and many other state leaders.

Notice that none of these activities involved Leung’s successor, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, which has sparked concerns in some quarters as to whether the outgoing leader is trying to overshadow Lam, and whether she may simply overturn many of his initiatives after she takes over.

Leung has offered various explanations for Lam’s absence, such as the delegation list for the belt and road summit being decided earlier by Beijing. And that his administration is duty bound to work hard until the last minute. At the same time he has stressed that he and Lam have maintained good communication.

Understandably, no outgoing leader wants to be a lame duck, or perceived as one, while the successor will naturally want to establish his or her own style. Therefore it should come as no surprise if Lam decides to adjust or even overhaul some of Leung’s policies and initiatives after July 1.

Hong Kong chief executive-elect Carrie Lam struggles to find new talent to join her cabinet

The question is, while there is a need for continuity, how will that be achieved for important policies such as tackling the city’s housing shortage, which Lam has promised to deliver on? It also raises another practical question: who will be the next housing minister?

It’s an open secret that Lam is still facing a headache in pulling together her leadership team, given that it’s become such a hot kitchen at Tamar, the heart of the city’s administration.

So far, among all the names being thrown around for various positions, one that is conspicuously missing is the replacement for Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, the minister in charge of housing and transport, who is determined to leave.

Another key position is that of the financial secretary. It’s also no secret that Lam would rather bring in a new face than keep Paul Chan Mo-po, who is a close ally of Leung. This explains why different names keep popping up, with the latest being retired finance veteran Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen.

However, some political pundits also point out that Beijing requires whoever occupies the finance minister's seat to be equipped with both political experience and a more macro perspective, besides being familiar with the financial sector.

“When the drums of war are banging loud, [the marshal] thinks of where to find the good generals,” the old Chinese saying goes. It may well apply to Lam’s situation. With six weeks to go, she still has some time to manoeuvre.

Finding these “good generals” to form her dream team needs a smooth transition of power from Leung to Lam, as well as open minds on their part.

Even if the one who is fading out seems rather keen on staying in the light when it’s nearing sunset.