Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying insists civil service ‘very stable’, after rumours of exodus if Lam wins election

City leader says ‘not many people would be surprised’ by pan-democrats backing John Tsang, instead of former chief secretary

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 8:49pm

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday his cabinet and the civil service were “very stable”, dismissing suggestions of a staff exodus if election favourite Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor succeeds him, calling the rumours “an election ploy”.

Lam’s critics, and one former government adviser, have claimed that the former chief secretary – and Beijing’s preferred candidate – has a bad relationship with senior civil servants.

Some reports had suggested that Permanent Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Elizabeth Tse Man-yee and her husband, Permanent Secretary for the Civil Service Thomas Chow Tat-ming, would be among those quitting the government if Lam wins the election. The pair denied that.

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A day after Secretary for the Civil Service Clement Cheung Wan-ching said there had been “nothing unusual” inside the service, Leung said: “The government’s team, including the civil servants’ team, is very stable. There is no such so-called problem of ‘exodus’. The whole thing is just an election ploy, and it is completely groundless.”

He added: “Even those senior civil servants rumoured to be considering quitting have clarified [that they have no such plan].”

On Sunday the Election Committee’s 1,194 members – more than a quarter of them pan-democrats – will elect Hong Kong’s next leader.

The pan-democratic camp said almost all of its electors would vote for Lam’s main rival John Tsang Chun-wah, saying that the former financial secretary can mend Hong Kong’s political and social divides. Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing is the third candidate.

Leung, speaking ahead of an Executive Council meeting, sidestepped a question about whether those divides would widen if Lam wins, saying only: “Not many people would be surprised that… more than 300 electors from the democratic camp would not vote for Mrs Lam.”

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In his election victory speech in 2012, Leung promised to build a “Hong Kong camp” to bring together people from different sides of the political spectrum.

But his tenure has coincided with a time of political tumult in the city, most notably during the pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014, last year’s Mong Kok riot and the disqualification of elected pro-independence legislators. His critics say Leung’s “hardline” style of government has contributed to the strife.

Addressing this issue on Tuesday, Leung said: “After the election, I tried hard to win support from those who did not vote for me. On many issues, I have tried to win their support for my work either publicly or in various committees.”

The chief executive, who will leave office on June 30, said suggestions he would stay in government after that as a political adviser were “just speculation”.