Carrie Lam
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Carrie Lam with husband Lam Siu-por on a flight to Beijing. Photo: Sam Tsang

Parenting, popularity ratings and that PR gaffe over an Octopus card ... Hong Kong’s next leader Carrie Lam opens up

Chief executive-elect shows a softer side in interview, reflecting on the storm she has weathered since winning the city’s top job in March

Carrie Lam
Hong Kong’s incoming leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed her softer side in a rare interview aired on Sunday, advising parents to value time spent with their children, while recalling her marriage on December 19, 1984 – the same day as the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Speaking in a pre-recorded RTHK interview, Lam also opened up about the difficulties she encountered in forming the incoming cabinet, her PR gaffes during the election campaign, her views on popularity ratings as well as her plan to move into Government House by the end of August.

Lam, who turned 60 on May 13, also said her husband would not take up honorary roles, unlike the spouses of previous chief executives.

Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping meets British prime minister Margaret Thatcher on December 19, 1984 – the day incoming Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was married. Photo: SCMP
The former No 2 official in Hong Kong won the leadership race on March 26 to become the city’s first female leader. She will be sworn in on July 1, the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule.

During her election campaign, Lam was ridiculed for various missteps.

On January 21, she looked unsure about how to use an Octopus card after visiting the MTR’s South Island Line. An aide showed her how to push past the turnstile at Admiralty station.

Her official Facebook page belatedly opened three weeks into the campaign and was quickly flooded with negative comments from detractors.

Lam joked in the interview that it was in fact “MTR’s fault” that she looked confused that day.

Referring to MTR Corp chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang, Lam said: “I should talk to Fred Ma about it ... The South Island Line has automated barriers but when I returned to Admiralty ... I forgot that I needed to push past [its] turnstile. So I am not ignorant about how to use an Octopus card, I am just confused by the different designs.”

Lam added that she was grateful for the support of her family – her husband and two sons – during the election campaign and the sacrifices they had made.

She said she had insisted on spending time with her children in their early years and solving any family issues with them as soon as possible.

“Don’t deceive yourself with the phrase ‘quality time’. Quantity is also important because without it, how can you have quality? Children do not really know what is quality – they just need to see you and hug you,” Lam added.

“As civil servants, there are in-trays and out-trays on our desks, as well as the pending-trays for things we don’t know how to solve. But in parenting, we should not drag matters that need to be addressed, and put our children in this tray.”

As for the wedding, Lam said it was coincidence it fell on the day the declaration on Hong Kong’s future was signed. “We did not choose it deliberately, it was just offered by the marriage registry. But our parents did choose the other dates for the [Chinese rituals] before the wedding.”

Confirming she would live in Government House, Lam said the building was usually renovated for each new occupant. “So it could be the end of August.”

On governance, Lam said despite the difficulties, she remained confident about forming a “capable” cabinet.

I hope residents can take a long-term approach and focus on Hong Kong’s development in the next few years
Carrie Lam, chief executive-elect

Earlier this month, the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme found that Lam’s popularity had increased slightly.

Of 1,004 residents interviewed between May 8 and May 11, 47 per cent said they supported Lam as the city’s next leader while 44 per cent said otherwise.

The results put her net approval rating at 3 percentage points – up 10 points from late April.

On popularity, Lam said: “Ratings can fluctuate according to comments you make. I hope residents can take a long-term approach and focus on Hong Kong’s development in the next few years.”

Lam reiterated that she wanted to bring hope, especially to young people, who could not afford to buy a home.

She recalled that while planning for her retirement last year before her U-turn to run for the top job, she also realised that even she “could not afford properties in the city”. She said she considered purchasing a home in the New Territories.

As chief secretary, Lam earned about HK$330,000 a month and lived in an official residence on The Peak.

Lam also recalled working under Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee in the security branch in the mid-1980s, shortly after she joined the colonial government in 1980.
Ip, now a pro-establishment lawmaker, dropped out of the leadership race in March because of insufficient nominations.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: lam still smiling and ready for power