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Carrie Lam

In race for top job, appealing to the people must come first

With Carrie Lam joining a crowded field, it is all the more important that candidates seek the support of the public – even if it is a small-circle election

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 1:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 1:55am

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday formally resigned, paving the way for her to join the chief executive race. That brings the number of aspirants for the city’s top job to at least four, along with Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing and New People’s Party leader Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. With the nomination period starting on February 14 and closing on March 1, it is time the aspirants moved onto the stage for more serious engagement with the people.

Beijing has so far refrained from sharing with the public its preference for the city’s next leader. But that does not dampen speculation that Lam is the favourite. As soon as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made clear his intention last month not to seek re-election because of family reasons, Lam declared she would reconsider her own bid, having earlier said she was not interested in the job.

That Lam is likely to be the “chosen one” is reinforced by Beijing’s delay in approving Tsang’s resignation, which was submitted a month ago. Not only has it prevented him from making an early start to his campaign, it also fuels speculation about whether Beijing even wants him in the race. There have been suggestions that having three candidates from the pro-establishment camp would make the outcome unpredictable.

Carrie Lam spells out her vision for Hong Kong as she enters chief executive race

As the No 2 official in the Hong Kong government, Lam is unrivalled in terms of leadership ability and experience. But increasingly, her close working relationship with the unpopular Leung has made her a target for attacks. Criticism from the pan-democratic camp has become even more vocal recently, particularly following the revelation of the controversial plan to build the Hong Kong version of Beijing’s famed Palace Museum in West Kowloon. This is not helped when she is seen as Beijing’s choice for the top job. According to a South China Morning Post survey of public opinion, Tsang’s support rating is 27.6 per cent, while Lam’s is 23.2 per cent. However, more than 45 per cent of the respondents believed she had the highest chance of winning.

It takes at least 150 nominations from the 1,194-strong Election Committee to stand in the chief executive contest. It would be interesting to see whether all four hopefuls can eventually meet the threshold. But more importantly, they need to reach out to the public. As the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief recently said, the city’s leader needs not just Beijing’s trust, but also the broad support of the people. The public expects to hear more from the hopefuls about their visions for the city in the years and decades ahead.