Newly elected Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam vows to unite sharply divided city
Beijing’s preferred candidate promises more inclusive leadership and better ties between executive and legislature
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was elected as Hong Kong’s first female leader on Sunday, promising to unite a divided city with a more inclusive style of governance and appealing for the chance to start a new chapter.
The former No 2 official, who secured 777 out of the 1,186 votes cast by the Election Committee tasked to pick the next chief executive, also vowed to find ways to improve relations between the executive and the legislature.
However, opposition politicians remained sceptical, given her non-committal response to their demands for universal suffrage. They also pointed out that she was picked by a small-circle electorate despite being eclipsed in the popularity stakes by John Tsang Chun-wah, who finished a distant secondwith 365 votes.
The third candidate, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, managed only 21 votes.
The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the election had been “open, fair and orderly”, and that Lam “fitted” Beijing’s requirements for a chief executive. The office will now get started on procedures to formally appoint Lam.
Beijing’s liaison office said it expected Lam to implement the “one country, two systems” policy and the Basic Law “accurately”.
While critics called the election result “a defeat of the people’s majority views” and blamed it on Beijing’s “interference” in lobbying support for Lam, the former chief secretary projected her win as the fruit of her own labour and that of her team.
Popular underdog Tsang appeared gracious in defeat, hugging Lam on stage and later urging Hongkongers to accept the result and support the winner for the good of the city.
Delivering her victory speech in a conciliatory tone, Lam, 59, said she had realised her shortcomings and learned humility on the campaign trail.
“Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness and has accumulated a lot of frustration,” she said.
“My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustration – and to unite our society to move forward.”
To achieve that, Lam said, she would choose talent on merit rather than political affiliation, and form a platform to maintain regular communication with all parties in the legislature.
However, regarding the pan-democrats’ biggest demand – restarting the stalled electoral reform process with the goal of universal suffrage – Lam would only say she would start with “easier subjects that will not be severely affected by one’s political affiliation”.
She vowed to uphold the “one country, two systems”formula for Hong Kong and the city’s core values such as inclusiveness, respect for human rights, rule of law and clean government.
Lam promised to get moving on taking the city forward, starting with the policy proposals in her manifesto, such as ramping up spending on education, lowering the profits tax rate for smaller enterprises and boosting land supply for housing.
The higher-than-expected vote tally reflected “unprecedented unity” among the pro-establishment camp under “the central government’s full support”, said Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a quasi-official think tank based in Beijing.
Lau said the pro-Beijing camp, split between outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ting-yen in the last election, had unified behind Lam this time.
Leung won the 2012 election with 689 votes, earning the number as a derogatory nickname.
In yesterday’s election, only about 60 pro-Beijing votes are believed to have gone to Tsang, who had been promised 300 votes by the pan-democrats.
It has been reported that Beijing officials lobbied Election Committee members – including Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing – to vote for Lam. Two of Tsang’s nominators also made a last-minute U-turn on Saturday, with one of them, Ricky Chim Kim-lung, admitting he had been approached by the liaison office.
Tsang himself denied any knowledge of Beijing’s “interference” yesterday, while Lam would not concede that her success was a result of the central government’s lobbying.
Asked whether she would have the courage to stand up to Beijing on issues opposed by Hongkongers, Lam replied: “You have seen my guts. I will remain fearless on issues that are for the good of Hong Kong.”
The new leader in waiting said she would visit the liaison office in the coming few days “as part of the protocol”, along with visits to other offices, including that of the incumbent chief executive.
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, now a state leader, said Lam would be able to lead Hong Kong out of its troubles.
Ray Yep Kin-man, a public policy professor at City University, said Lam’s victory was a “demonstration of democracy in Chinese style” and “a defeat of Hong Kong’s majority view”. She should form a cabinet with credible figures to rebuild trust.