Carrie Lam’s surprise u-turn on bid for top job after CY Leung backs out

Announcement a U-turn from previous statements saying city’s chief secretary would retire after her last year in public service

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 December, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2016, 12:04am

A strong contender to become Hong Kong’s next leader re-emerged on the scene on Saturday with the city’s No 2 official, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, announcing she will “reconsider”running for the job.

After repeated talk of retiring, she said she had “no choice” because of the “drastic change” caused by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s announcement a day earlier that he would not be seeking re-election in March.

Casting herself as a guarantor of the city’s stability and of Leung’s legacy, Lam made the U-turn less than 24 hours after her boss dropped his political bombshell, citing the need to be with his family for giving up on an almost guaranteed bid for a second term.

Her U-turn came as a source with knowledge of Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s election plan told the Post that the No 3 official had intended to resign and announce his bid this week after the Election Committee polls, but declined to say whether the finance chief would go ahead. The source was responding to reports that Tsang would resign this Tuesday.

Hong Kong in shock as Chief Executive CY Leung decides not to seek re-election

Supporters see Lam as the most qualified politician to win the trust of both Beijing and the person on the street in Hong Kong, but opponents are concerned that the chief secretary has been too closely linked, by the nature of her job, with the unpopular chief executive throughout the past four years.

Lam is the third pro-establishment heavyweight to express an interest in the top job – but without formal electioneering – after Tsang and executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

Lam announced her plan after expressing shock at Leung’s decision but did not take any questions from the media.

“Given that this is such a drastic change, I have no choice but to reconsider my situation at this time,” she said.

The chief secretary has repeatedly indicated a lack of interest in higher office, and talked of retiring when Leung’s current administration ends in June.

“I know that when I talk about reconsidering [the election] today I will immediately attract criticism, accusing me of a U-turn and eating my own words,” Lam said.

But Lam, who has long been seen as a strong contender, insisted she had not done even “a tiny bit” of preparation for an election.

CY Leung’s decision not to run came out of the blue for many

“I’m afraid the question before me today is not just the consideration of my own reputation, but the overall well-being of Hong Kong,” Lam said.

She listed three criteria for deciding whether to join the race.

“First, whether my electioneering or successful bid as the next chief executive would be conducive to the continued, successful implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong’ principles,” she said.

“Second, whether the chief executive’s governing vision ... as well as the policies in his administration could be sustained.

“Third, of course, I need to get the support and understanding of my family.”

Among the three pro-establishment heavyweights vying for the job, Lam is seen as the one likely to inherit Leung’s support base. A source linked to the now aborted effort to re-elect Leung told the Post that “the apparatus will be available for Carrie Lam if called upon”, although the team had not yet approached her.

Lam appeared to be winning support just hours after making her intention public.

“I am very pleased to hear that Lam will reconsider her [next move],” said Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, the city’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Fan praised the chief secretary for her work ability. “Her performance is well-regarded by many. She is a very capable official,” Fan said.

Hong Kong’s pro-establishment camp ‘disappointed’ with CY Leung’s shock decision not to seek re-election

Tik Chi-yuen, convenor of Third Side and a former Democratic Party lawmaker, said he supported Lam as she was a “first-class public administrator”.

But in the past months, she also picked fights with lawmakers in the pro-democracy camp who considered her approach to be hardline. At a conference on law-and-order on Saturday she described those who nicknamed the police force as “black police” as “scammers”.

“Carrie Lam is increasingly like CY Leung,” said James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party lawmaker. “Hongkongers will not regard it as a fresh start if Beijing only replaces him with a CY 2.0.”

Commenting on Leung’s decision, Lam said: “It is tragic that at this time in Hong Kong, serving the community and protecting your family cannot both coexist and that those in politics would have to make such a difficult ­decision.”

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng