Keep calm and Carrie on: no honeymoon for Lam after Hong Kong election win, but some say she may fare better than CY

Chief executive-elect has to mend social and political rifts and recruit enough talent for her team

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 11:39pm

Unlike her three predecessors, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will have no political honeymoon after her win in the leadership race, given her low popularity and the formidable challenges facing the chief executive-elect.

The previous three chief executives were the most popular when they were elected. According to a survey conducted by Lingnan University a week before the election in March 2012, 31 per cent of respondents favoured Leung Chun-ying, while only 18.1 per cent backed his arch-rival Henry Tang Ying-yen.

But a similar poll by the university conducted before this election found only 25.1 per cent of respondents in support of Lam, who trailed rival John Tsang Chun-wah by 27 percentage points.

Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam unlikely to draw pan-democrats to new cabinet, pundits say

In an interview with the Post in early June 2012, Leung, who was chief executive-elect at the time, said he did not expect a honeymoon upon taking office. Leung’s popularity slid after he stepped into the role, following news of illegal structures in his home and his government’s ham-fisted attempt to introduce national education in schools.

Lam is well aware of the reality facing her, after clinching 777 votes on Sunday from the 1,194-member Election Committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.

After all, the former chief secretary had admitted in January that there would be questions over her governance if she won the top job despite being less popular than rivals.

She is now faced with a mountain of challenges for the next five years – from the rising tide of anti-mainland sentiments to skyrocketing property prices and political tensions.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, agreed Lam would encounter many difficulties. The association is the central government’s top think tank on Hong Kong affairs.

But he added that her situation should not be as bad as Leung’s.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said Lam had won the race, but not the hearts and minds of the people.

Asked if there would still be room for the pan-democrats to cooperate with the new administration, Yeung said Lam had to convince them and society that she was willing to listen to others and mend the rift.

“Tensions between Beijing and pan-democrats escalated during the election because of the central government’s influence in the race,” Lau said.

“But Lam’s relationship with pan-democrats was not that bad during her civil service career. Her style is not as divisive.

“There is room for her to mend the rift with pan-democrats in the next few years if she can adopt a more inclusive style.”

The professor noted that unlike the division within the pro-establishment camp during Leung’s tenure, Lam may actually be able to enjoy the support of the whole bloc.

Another challenge for Lam will be assembling a credible team.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said Lam could only unite civil society if she recruited capable people into her cabinet and showed her respect for the core values of Hong Kong.

In her victory speech, Lam said she would strive to attract talent based on meritocracy.

She pledged to invite anyone with the ability and commitment to join her team “regardless of political affiliation”.

Lam also showed her determination to be as inclusive as possible, saying she would try her best to convince Beijing if it had reservations about some potential appointees for her team.

Stocking up on talent however, will be no easy feat for Lam, as a number of incumbent ministers, including Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, had already indicated that they would not stay on after their tenures expire at the end of June.

Considering the increasingly politicised environment, it will also be difficult for Lam to recruit talent from the business and professional sectors.