Carrie Lam has squandered her good start as Hong Kong chief executive with recent missteps
Alice Wu says the chief executive began well in office but her refusal to mediate between opposing camps in the legislature and her defence of Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng have betrayed Hong Kong people’s hopes
It has been reported that Huang Lanfa, a deputy director of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, has praised Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for having got off to a good start since taking office.
Well, technically, Lam did have a good start. She began her term with a pretty high rating, as the public was euphoric over the end of Leung Chun-ying’s reign. She pulled off a few clever political manoeuvres as the chief executive-elect: her courtesy visits to Beijing’s liaison office, the office of the foreign ministry and the People’s Liberation Army garrison were delicately handled and clearly signalled that she intended to do things differently.
On her first day, she allocated HK$5 billion to education – a smart move as no one would object to more resources for that sector. It’s up there with “kiss the baby” in terms of political sure-wins.
And so Hong Kong did feel tentatively renewed. Reaching across the political aisle to get the support of the opposition and ticking an election pledge off her list in her first week of office was indeed a good start. At the time, the public held out some hope for Lam’s ability to “heal the social divide”.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long. Being insensitive to the Rohingya crisis and making her first trip to Myanmar to talk business made Hong Kong look bad. Refusing to mediate between rival camps in the legislature over proposed changes to their rule book made Lam herself look bad. It exposed her unwillingness to mend divides. So her comments on “improving the executive-legislative relationship” as “the first thing the government will be working on” were just talk. When the opportunity presented itself to play the role, she passed.
The latest controversy over Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah is now way out of hand. I’m glad that Lam has found a BFF in Cheng, so much so that Lam has repeatedly stuck her neck out for Cheng over the illegal structures in her homes. When the secretary for justice breaks the law, it is not tolerance, which Lam aggravatingly keeps asking the people for, that we need. What the public needs is to know that officials will do the right thing. Cheng, along with Lam, failed miserably. Cheng can chalk it up to her political inexperience, but what’s Lam’s excuse?
Lam feels she can relate to Cheng when it comes to “being too busy to handle private affairs”. But as chief executive, her priority – and the theme of her entire election campaign – is to “connect”, relate to the common folk, and not the privileged few who think that breaking the law should be tolerated.
With her “tolerance” for illegal structures, Lam has not only compromised her own integrity, but also the trust – the little there was to begin with – people have in the government and her relationship with her “friends” in the legislature. There is no doubt that Cheng is manna from political heaven for the opposition, and they will ride the abomination that Cheng has managed to become in just weeks for all it’s worth.
How quickly this city’s first female chief executive reverted back to her lead-tainted water buck-passing bureaucratic self. How fast this government has degenerated into one that cares not for personal failures. How quickly Lam has gone back on her words on easing social frustrations. Nothing is more infuriating than being talked down to in brazen bureaucratese.
The pro-establishment camp better start evaluating how much of a political liability Lam poses for it. Lam certainly isn’t looking out for them.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA