CARRIE LAM’S ANNOUNCEMENT that she will not seek a second term as Hong Kong’s chief executive comes as little surprise.
Her assertion that she informed Beijing of her intention a year ago may be an effort to deflect the jumped-or-pushed question. Yet, as this Bystander noted when the 64-year old Lam added a few tearful words to the conclusion of her annual policy speech last October, it seemed clear then that there would be no second term.
She will leave office on June 30, having recorded the lowest public approval rating for the officeholder since London handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 and as the city emerges from the worst Covid-19 outbreak in China.
Of course, public popularity matters little for candidates for chief executive as a committee of pro-Beijing electors fills the position.
Lam has overseen what history will likely regard as a pivotal period of national security legislation to clamp down on dissent as Beijing tightened its grip on the city’s affairs and systematically dismantled organised opposition to its control.
In 2019, Lam sparked months of anger and discontent by proposing a law to allow extraditions to mainland China. That had to be withdrawn in the face of street protests, but the controversial National Security law followed in 2020, effectively ending Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy.
The election of her successor on May 8 will be the first conducted under last year’s sweeping electoral reforms. These gave local authorities greater powers to vet candidates and ensure that only ‘patriots’ could stand in elections. They also require a loyalty oath from all Hong Kong elected officials, from local councillors to legislators, to screen out pro-democracy candidates.
Lam’s number two, Chief Secretary John Lee, appears to be Beijing’s choice as her successor. Lee, a former deputy police commissioner, was a security official during the 2019 protests and was elevated to the top leadership ranks last year, now seemingly in preparation for taking over.
His appointment would signal Beijing’s intention to sharpen its focus on security and tighter control of Hong Kong’s governance, but with a veneer of competence that was absent in Lam’s ill-starred term.