Restarting political reform process not priority for Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam

Former chief secretary, who led failed 2015 bid, said suitable social atmosphere was necessary before relaunching controversial reform process

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 8:09am

Chief executive contender Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has dropped a strong hint that relaunching political reform to achieve a popular ballot for Hong Kong’s leader will not be her priority in the next five years.

Speaking at a media briefing after meeting the Democratic Party on Thursday night, Lam said a suitable social atmosphere was necessary before launching the controversial reform process.

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“In deciding whether to relaunch the constitutional development [process], the administration must consider whether the criteria and atmosphere are present,” Lam said.

“Otherwise, we will draw Hong Kong into another series of divisions, and this is not favourable for the city’s development … There are a lot of economic matters for the government to tackle.”

As the city’s chief secretary, Lam spearheaded the government’s effort to introduce universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive. But the reform process triggered the 79-day Occupy protests in 2014 and the Legislative Council voted down a Beijing-decreed reform package in the following year.

Lam has yet to unveil her platform, but her stance on political reform contrasts with that of her three rivals, John Tsang Chun-wah, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Woo Kwok-hing. The trio identified political reform as a priority in their manifestoes.

Tsang promised to ­restart the political reform ­process and revisit a controversial national security bill when he unveiled his 73-page manifesto.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said they could not agree with Lam’s stance.

Lam was speaking after her campaign was given another major boost on Thursday as a group of local deputies to two national bodies vowed to support the former chief secretary.

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Stephen Tai Tak-fung, president of the Friends of Hong Kong Association, said its 194 members on the 1,194-strong Election Committee would meet to discuss how to back Lam.

The association is mainly made up of current and former deputies to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Henry Tang Ying-yen, a core member of the association who was defeated by Leung Chun-ying in the 2012 leadership race, said the group of 194 electors might not bundle their votes.

He is likely to support Lam because he was “very encouraged and delighted” by Lam’s vision on housing, education and economic development.

But he declined to confirm if he would nominate Lam, saying he would like to see her manifesto. It is understood that Lam will unveil her preliminary platform by next Tuesday.

Tang and Tai were speaking after hosting a seminar between Lam and about 20 members of the association.

On Lam, Tai said “We hope she can become the chief executive and continue to serve society. We have confidence in her.”

“Lam rose through the ranks from a junior civil servant ... and worked hard to become the chief secretary. We see her as the glory of Hong Kong and of Hong Kong women,” he added.

Asked how many of the 194 members would endorse Lam with the chief executive nomination period starting next Tuesday, Tai said members “will meet again and discuss how to support Lam”.

The Election Committee will choose the city’s next leader on March 26. A candidate needs 150 nominations to run and 601 to win.

The four chief executive aspirants spent Thursday meeting Election Committee members from business chambers and political parties.

After a meeting with the Hong Kong Chinese Importers’ and Exporters’ Association, Tsang was asked if he was worried about his own chances after the Friends of Hong Kong Association head expressed support for Lam.

“I’m very confident about getting enough nominating votes ... I know the [importers’ association] won’t bundle their votes,” Tsang said.

Asked if he was worried about not having Beijing’s blessing, Tsang said: “I think the central government hopes the election will be fair and competitive. I will continue to make efforts to gather support from different organisations.”

After a meeting with the Liberal Party, Lam was asked if the Friends of Hong Kong Association’s support meant she was “almost certain” to win with Beijing’s blessing.

“There’s no such thing as ‘almost certain’ in an election,” she said. “I think electors are supporting me after considering my work in the government over more than three decades ... and they might agree with my governance vision for the next administration as well.”

“I think it’s important for the chief executive to be recognised by the public,” Lam added.

Speaking separately, Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan said the Liberals would meet again to discuss nomination issues.

Referring to Lam and Tsang, Chung said: “The two [former] ministers have different strengths, so we will discuss the issue and not bundle our votes together.”