CHIEF EXECUTIVE RACE

Carrie Lam aims to ‘reignite’ Hong Kong as she officially announces candidacy for top job

Chief executive hopeful says government needs ‘good policies’, more transparency and ‘new blood’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 6:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 11:34am

The former No 2 official considered Beijing’s preferred choice for Hong Kong next leader officially declared her bid for the city’s top job yesterday, promising good governance with greater transparency and “new blood” in her cabinet.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor confirmed her candidacy hours after her resignation as chief secretary was formally accepted by Beijing, along with that of her former colleague and potential arch-rival John Tsang Chun-wah, who was understood to be determined to run, despite remaining outwardly coy.

Lam also vowed to continue with outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s “good policies” aimed at solving key issues such as housing and youth.

“I am worried about the discontent that has emerged in our society,” Lam said. “I know our younger generation is concerned about the lack of upward mobility and the cost of housing.

“I share the desires of many – that we must reignite Hong Kong’s can-do spirit.”

Watch: Carrie Lam announces bid to lead Hong Kong

On controversial policy issues, such as introducing national security legislation and reviving the stalled political reform process to achieve universal suffrage for electing the city’s leader, Lam said “any government would need to take a pragmatic approach” and wait for the right timing.

Lam’s resignation was approved by Beijing four days after she tendered it, while it took more than a month for the simultaneously approval of John Tsang’s departure as financial secretary. Tsang was replaced yesterday by development minister Paul Chan Mo-po, while Matthew Cheung Kin-chung took over from Lam.

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The Post has learned that Beijing’s liaison office informed senior editors of the city’s pro-Beijing newspapers last Wednesday that Lam was the preferred candidate.

The liaison office also issued an instruction to those newspapers to “gradually devote more extensive coverage” to Lam.

Mainland legal expert Tian Feilong said the simultaneous approval of the two ministers’ resignations would leave the perception that Beijing favoured Lam. “However, the central government can still argue that no explicit statement has been made to support a particular candidate so far and a fair competition is still in place,” Tian said.

Hosting a press conference alongside executive councillor and campaign office chief Bernard Chan yesterday, Lam said: “I shall contest the coming chief executive election because I love this city and care about the well-being of more than seven million people ... with the passion to serve, and faith in the people of Hong Kong, I am confident that together we will succeed.”

She added that “it is incumbent upon the government to restore faith, propel the economy, reduce inequality, and build greater consensus”.

It was a further elaboration of Lam’s statement last Thursday, when she first announced her intention to run and spelled out an eight-point “achievable new vision” for Hong Kong. Topping her list was a rallying call to play to Hong Kong’s “strengths with determination and confidence”.

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As for her critics’ concerns that she would adopt the outgoing chief executive’s “high-handed” governance approach, Lam clarified that she was only talking about “good policies”.

“I’m afraid good governance requires higher standards – public participation, the rule of law, societal consensus, timely response, accountability. A higher level of transparency is also required,” she said.

Reflecting on Chan’s confirmation as finance minister, Lam said good governance was also about having a good team.

“My view today is that the governing team of the next administration should be injected with some new blood,” she said.

Lam also dismissed the business sector’s concerns about her social welfare background in government manifesting in socialist policies, saying she supported “a free economy ... as well as narrowing the welfare gap and bridging the polarised society, but it does not mean support for socialism”.

Despite yesterday’s long-awaited approval of his resignation, Tsang issued an intriguing statement yesterday afternoon, in which he stopped short of officially throwing his hat into the ring.

“I will hold a press conference in a matter of days to announce my decision,” Tsang said.

Lam did not comment on Tsang’s potential challenge, but she launched a veiled attack on her former colleague, who has stayed ahead of her in popularity polls over the last two years.

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“I have never come across a single policy that was not controversial at all; if we are to avoid controversies and criticisms, the only way is not to do things,” she said. “In retrospect, every government’s work can be improved, but I think we should look forward.”

A total of 1,194 members of the Election Committee will on March 26 pick Hong Kong’s leader for the next five years. Pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing are both confirmed candidates.

Ip said yesterday that Lam’s entry had cost her support, as some committee members had shifted their backing to her rival.