Carrie Lam needs to make bold moves

Bianca Chan
Bianca Chan |

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The 'new blood' of the new Chief Executive's cabinet are familiar faces and old men.

Incoming chief executive Carrie Lam purportedly said that “the government team of the next administration should be injected with some new blood”. Not long after, she proceeded to unveil her “ideal” (as she had insisted) team - a male-dominated line-up filled with incumbents and familiar faces, recruited largely from within the bureaucracy itself. Quite an embarrassing backtrack for a politician who has yet to begin her tenure.

First problem - a glaring imbalance between two sexes. Aside from Lam herself, the only female minister is Sophia Chan Siu-chee, incumbent undersecretary for food and health, who will soon be promoted. For patriarchs who dismiss the contention as a trivial matter, the argument on the importance of gender equality in government can best be summarised by Kim Campbell, Canada’s first and only female prime minister in the nineties. “Women, who make up half the population, have a unique set of issues and experiences that must be sufficiently represented in national decision-making to reflect a true democracy.”

Hence, the current Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron were rightly lauded for their deliberate attempts to name a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women in 2015 and 2017 respectively, a trend which apparently has not got on in Hong Kong. It would have been an opportunity for Lam to exude an aura of progress and representation under the new administration, particularly when increasingly fatigued and unimpressed citizens expect Lam to diverge significantly from her predecessor.

Another lesson that Lam could perhaps learn from Macron is the intricate balance between left and right in governance. Law Chi-kwong, succeeding labour minister, remains the only member from the pan-democrats. Analysis has pointed out that given that Law, a founding member of the Democratic Party, had resigned from the party only moments prior to joining Lam’s team, further democrats’ participation in governance has not been entirely ruled out. What this means is if Lam is serious about her pledge to “improve relations between the executive and the legislature” and to “unite Hong Kong”, she should no longer surround herself with yes-men and Beijing’s cronies, but dissenting voices who make up half of the geographical constituencies in LegCo.

Nevertheless, it is not exactly Lam’s fault for the lack of women, members from the opposition and even individuals from private sectors or academia. Lam’s “ideal” team is more likely to be her “second eleven”, a term dubbed by Winston Churchill to describe a coalition government that many refused to join. (Coincidentally the same phrase was applied to Theresa May in Britain’s recent general election.) Lam had openly admitted to experiencing recruitment difficulties - no surprise, considering the antagonism she faces from the general public and the unattractive material or psychological remuneration one stands to gain. The mental reward one receives for “making history” or “improving my home” in politics has largely been undermined by the looming presence of the Liaison Office, the outpost of the Central Government. Bureaucrats are now perceived to be Beijing’s puppets than prominent agents of change.

Reactions to Carrie Lam’s cabinet do not bode well for her administration. She will not have the luxury of a honeymoon period that most new office holders enjoy - and must dive headfirst into Hong Kong’s stale social and political problems.