The many mountains that Carrie Lam still has to climb
Hong Kong chief executive has made progress in some areas but as she prepares to deliver her second policy address on Wednesday, the challenges – external and internal – continue to mount
Now into the second year of her five-year term, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor must be feeling the pressure to make good on an array of promises made during her campaign for the city’s top job. Meanwhile, she has been bombarded with demands of all sorts in addition to her already-heavy policy agenda. With her second policy address due on Wednesday, how she responds to the aspirations of different sectors amid growing internal and external challenges will be a test of her leadership.
Compared to the era under her predecessor, the prevailing political and social sentiments have significantly improved. Public grievances are no longer as strong; hostility and confrontation have been replaced by more rational debates and arguments.
But the seemingly calmer environment belies the challenges ahead. Externally, the US-China trade war has created much uncertainty and the impact on the economy has yet to be fully appraised. Internally, political reconciliation following the pro-democracy Occupy movement in 2014 remains a work in progress. The unprecedented crackdown by the Lam government on a pro-independence political faction has turned into fresh points of disputes over national security and the city’s freedoms.
The chief executive is expected to face growing pressure from both the patriotic and the pan-democratic camp on this front. How long can she hold off on the constitutional requirement to enact national security legislation as required under Basic Law Article 23? Will there be further action against other local groups seen as advocating separatism? Will universal suffrage be revived following the ill-fated political reform in 2015? All these will be closely watched by the local and international communities.
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Lam, to her credit, has already made steady progress in some areas. This includes driving innovation and technology as a new pillar of economic growth as well as boosting education and integration with the mainland. But the clock for her to deliver on housing is also ticking fast. Following the end of the much-touted public consultation on land supply, the real challenge is to get the public to rally behind a clear road map. The government must also not lose sight of the need to address other issues, such as public health care, welfare protection and the environment. With a staggering HK$1 trillion in fiscal reserves, the government can afford to do more.
Amid waning patience and growing expectation, it is only natural that Lam’s popularity rating has dropped to a new low of 50.8, out of 100. What matters is that the government is not only seen as addressing the city’s problems proactively, but also producing concrete results. The public wants to see how the chief executive will rise to the challenge.