Chief Executive Election

Carrie Lam aims for personal touch at leadership campaign rally, vows to listen if elected

Leading contender in chief executive race looks to project image as healer of social divide at rally with business and political big guns

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 11:54pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 12:02am

A leading contender in the coming election for Hong Kong’s highest office, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, on Friday went all out to reinvent herself as a candidate capable of healing the city’s social divide, at a star-studded rally featuring tycoons, but with pan-democrats conspicuously absent.

Lam, the former No 2 official who threw her hat into the ring for the chief executive race last month, also picked “We Connect”, with the catchwords “We Care, We Listen, We Act” as her campaign slogan.

She wore a T-shirt sporting the slogan, confident and smiling as she paced the stage with a microphone, in a set-up reminiscent of tech bosses’ product launches. The casual, chatty style she adopted contrasted sharply with her usual demeanour, which has been criticised as aloof and even arrogant.

“The team and I chose ‘We Connect’ because we know Hong Kong society is divided, lacks harmony and is stuck in a stalemate,” Lam told some 1,000 supporters who turned up for her election rally in Wan Chai on Friday.

“We must stay united and charge forward.”

But the limelight was partly stolen by her arch-rival in the race, John Tsang Chun-wah, who announced the result of his crowdfunding drive just hours ahead of Lam’s big show. The former finance minister, a rank below Lam when she was in government, raised over HK$1.3 million for his campaign in a day.

Lam, often described as an “iron lady” lacking a soft, personal touch, appeared to take pains to rebrand herself as the people’s candidate on Friday.

She also outlined the key points of her election platform, which is still being drafted.

Pledging to expedite work on land development and review the education system, Lam spoke of plans to introduce three “new styles” of governance, should she be elected in March.

“I will lead officials and civil servants to create a new trend of governance with public engagement, ” she said, adding that she would also facilitate business convenience and adopt a new philosophy towards public finance so that the public could share the fruits of the city’s economic development.

Nearly 80 members of the 1,194-strong Election Committee tasked with picking the next chief executive showed up for the rally on Friday. Their votes would give Lam half of the required 150 nominations needed to qualify for the race.

More than half of them, including delegates to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, were from the political sector, while 20 were from the business world and the remainder from the social and professional sector.

Among the real estate big guns present were retired Wheelock and Wharf Holdings chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching, and Stewart Leung Chi-kin, chairman of the Real Estate Developers Association’s executive committee.

Alongside them stood Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee, Sino Land chairman Robert Ng Chee Siong, Shui On Land chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui, founder of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts Robert Kuok, and Aron Harilela, chairman of the Harilela Group. All of them accepted Lam’s invitation to be the senior advisers of her campaign.

But conspicuous in their absence were representatives from the city’s two biggest developers: CK Hutchison Holdings, led by the city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing; and Sun Hung Kai Properties, as well as the pan-democrats.

Political scientist Dr Ma Ngok, of Chinese University, cast doubt on Lam’s ability to mend the city’s rifts, saying the rally attendees were heavily inclined towards the business sector and political conservatives.

He also said the line-up for Lam was weaker than expected and it had highlighted her limitations, especially amid rumours spread by the city’s pro-establishment camp that she was Beijing’s favoured candidate.