CHIEF EXECUTIVE RACE

Hong Kong’s ice queen Carrie Lam melts hearts at maiden political rally

A beaming front runner casts off her image as a stern bureaucrat and reveals a softer, caring side – and why she likes to wear a cheongsam

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 11:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 11:59pm

Anyone expecting to see “ice queen” Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Friday instead met a sunny, upbeat chief executive candidate at her carefully choreographed maiden political rally.

With her old image in cold storage, a smiling, heavily made-up Lam wore a Unicef-blue T-shirt emblazoned with her campaign slogan “We Connect”. As she walked into the auditorium of the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, the room broke into a din as millionaires and supporters alike clapped thundersticks to welcome her.

A minor hiccup occurred when one shoe slipped off. Still beaming, Lam opted for a wireless microphone and strode around on stage much like a Ted show presenter at an event that had shades of a musical concert as she called people out in the audience to speak about her.

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Lam, who turns 60 in May, spoke without a script for 45 minutes, at times making self-deprecating jokes about herself – like how her minder had taken away her Octopus card after her gaffe of showing Hongkongers she did not know how to use one.

Watch: Carrie Lam kicks off her election campaign

As if signalling her connection with the younger generation – an edge more often associated with her key rival, former finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah – some 15 youngsters stood on stage as Lam clapped with them.

And in a not-too-subtle bid to undercut Tsang’s credentials as a fencing coach with widespread respect, according to an online video, Lam roped in a former fencer who represented Hong Kong at the Olympics as emcee.

A hard-nosed bureaucrat but novice politician, Lam sought to appeal for unity and healing, as she employed storytelling techniques to convey her new image.

Lam, who has jealously guarded her family’s privacy, even introduced one of her two sons, Jeremy Lam Tsit-sze, and ­revealed how he was initially unwilling to support her bid.

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“He knew I was very tired over the past few years. Hearing I planned to run for chief executive, he said three words: ‘I don’t agree.’ He no longer answered my calls,” she said. But it was her ­determination and their friendship that changed his heart.

“Jeremy was not just my son but my friend. We went to Dunhuang and mainland mountains to help with [charities]. Jeremy went to Norway for a marathon; I flew there to support him. We’re very close,” she said of her son, who had flown in from his Beijing workplace.

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The younger Lam said: “When I was small, you always comforted me whenever I was afraid and made me feel there was nothing in the world I should be afraid of.

I will believe in you, support you and accompany you on the road ahead
Jeremy Lam, son of Carrie Lam

“When I was lost as I grew up, you always guided me and made me believe there was no obstacle that couldn’t be overcome.

“I will believe in you, support you and accompany you on the road ahead.”

Her media-shy husband, Professor Lam Siu-por, however, was not present. Lam took a dig at him, showing a photo of her with Sai Kung district councillor George Ng Sze-fuk, and joking that the man was not her husband.

If it was not already evident to all that this was Lam revealing a new side, a friend spelt it out for the audience as she described how Lam was not at all a stern bureaucrat but a caring person.

Former pan-democratic unionist Lau Chin-shek said she had a caring heart for the jobless as a student, while a graduate praised her for being approachable.

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Throughout, Lam kept the audience entertained. Showing four pictures of her dresses and cheongsam, she implied that sartorial choices were not political nor meant to impress Beijing. She was just trying to look good.

“I may not have a good figure, but the cheongsam best shows the figure of Asian women,” she declared. “Indeed, foreign politicians were nice to me when I ­appeared in a cheongsam.”