Hong Kong pan-democrats remain wary over Carrie Lam’s olive branch

Civic Party leader sceptical over Lam’s proposal for a communication mechanism, while Democrat calls on her to convince public over promise to mend divisions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 10:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 11:27pm

Hong Kong’s pan-democrats remain largely sceptical that Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will be able to bridge the rift with the bloc even though the newly elected leader held out an olive branch in her victory speech on Sunday.

The chief executive-elect, who won the race with the help only of pro-establishment voters, promised to establish a mechanism for regular dialogue with pan-democrats following the politically charged election.

“The election is over... I will immediately invite people of all political stripes to sit down and talk [with me] in my capacity as chief executive-elect,” the former chief secretary said when asked how she would unite society given her low popularity.

Watch: Carrie Lam is declared city’s next leader

“I don’t expect [divisions to be healed] overnight or within a short time. But please give me a chance and give me time.”

Lam also pledged to invite anyone with commitment and ability to join her cabinet regardless of their political affiliation.

Tension between Lam and the opposition escalated during the campaign amid reports that Beijing’s liaison office had been surreptitiously canvassing votes for her.

The pan-democrats lambasted Lam as someone subject to manipulation by Beijing and expressed disappointment that she was non-committal about restarting the stalled political reform process.

The relationship between the executive branch and the legislature also soured in the past five years amid a campaign of filibustering adopted by some pan-democrats to block unpopular government bills and funding applications.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said he was sceptical over the communication mechanism promised by Lam.

Watch: The highs and lows of the chief executive campaign

He recalled Lam failed to realise her pledge made during the Occupy protests in 2014 to set up a similar communication platform following her dialogue with student leaders.

“Would that be a purely public relations show or a practical working platform? If she is willing to listen and respect our opinions on specific public policies, we are open to talks,” Yeung said.

The barrister-turned-lawmaker also cast doubt on Lam’s political power to mend the rift.

“Lam’s integrity was questioned during her previous work,” he said. “The pro-Beijing camp’s ignorance of mainstream opinion during the election also fuelled Hongkongers’ doubts on the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’.”

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said Lam had to convince the public that she would deliver her promise to mend divisions in society.

“She has to demonstrate that by recruiting a capable cabinet and appointing credible people to key public services,” Wu said, adding that incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying had courted controversy by appointing executive councillor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as head of the University of Hong Kong’s governing council.

How Hong Kong’s pan-democrats failed to turn the tide of the leadership race

Wu also believed the new administration would face tough times as there was no mutual trust between Lam and civil society.

Meanwhile, in her victory speech, Lam vowed to implement her election pledge to increase recurrent expenditure for education by HK$5 billion, adding she would soon reach out to various stakeholders and lawmakers.

Education sector legislator and pan-democrat Ip Kin-yuen struck a more positive tone on collaboration with Lam, saying the Professional Teachers’ Union he represented would be willing to join the discussion.

“The education sector has reached a consensus on reforms and the public is longing for more resources. I don’t think the pan-democrats in the Legislative Council will make her work on education difficult,” Ip said.

“It is a wise and appropriate choice for Lam to pick education but not other controversial issues as her priority.”

Lam’s low popularity would however be the main challenge for the new administration, he said.