When Carrie Lam was appointed in 2017 as the fourth CEO of Hong Kong and the first woman to head the China Special Administrative Region (SAR), her appointment by Beijing was met mainly with optimism.
Ms Lam, who was sworn in by President Xi Jinping a month before her 60th birthday, had worked for decades in the Hong Kong bureaucracy and had earned a reputation as a hardworking, efficient and competent bureaucrat. Hong Kong officials often like to repeat that the SAR, as the financial center of Asia, may not be doing anything, but it is making things happen. Ms. Lam embodied that spirit.
She admitted when she was sworn in that Hong Kong was suffering from a pretty serious division and said her priority would be to bridge the gap. She would not have imagined that four years later, not only does this divide remain as long as ever, but Ms Lam is leaving behind a controversial legacy that many in Hong Kong say has constantly redefined what it means. be the Chief Executive Officer (CE). of the SAR.
Ms Lam sparked the unprecedented protest movement in 2019 that took millions to the streets, proposing a controversial extradition bill that would allow the repatriation of suspects to the mainland. Protests against the bills have led to broader calls for democracy and universal suffrage. Hong Kongers vote for only half of their 70 lawmakers, with the rest nominated by pro-Beijing bodies. The EC is not voted for either, but chosen by an electoral committee supported by Beijing.
Ms Lam subsequently wholeheartedly supported Beijing’s overwhelming response to the protests, starting with a new national security law in 2020 and unprecedented changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system announced on March 30 that significantly reduced the share. democratically elected representatives. The number of elected lawmakers was reduced to 20 while the Legislative Council was enlarged to 90, ensuring a permanent majority for politicians appointed in Beijing and virtually ending the pro-democracy movement.
Reach the top
Born in Hong Kong under British rule in 1957, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor graduated from St. Francis’ Canossian College, according to her biography on China Vitae, then entered the University of Hong Kong to study social sciences. According to a Reuters profile, Ms. Lam is the daughter of an immigrant from Shanghai and a mother from Hong Kong with no formal education, and grew up in a small apartment in Wanchai where her bunk bed served as a desk; she stood on the lower level and put her textbooks on top. A top student, she joined the UK government civil service in 1980 and became Chief Secretary under the leadership of her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying. When appointed in 2017 by the Beijing-backed Election Committee, Ms Lam was, in a sense, an expected choice, having proven her credentials as a capable bureaucrat. Yet she would soon find, despite her long experience, her government facing the biggest crisis in Hong Kong since the transfer, the one it triggered.
The tensions inherent in the work of Hong Kongs CE, caught between the demands of the people of Hong Kong and the expectations of Beijing, came to a head in 2019, when the extradition bill, pushed by Ms Lam and supported by Beijing has sparked mass protests. which presented the greatest challenge to Beijing’s authority in decades.
Martin Lee, a prominent pro-democracy politician and lawyer known as the Father of Democracy in Hong Kong and convicted last week for staging an unauthorized protest march in 2019, said The Hindu in 2019, that the political crisis was both systemic and attributable to Ms Lams. How Ms Lam became so beholden to Beijing, even as it drastically changed the contours of one country, two systems, intrigued Mr Lee and other politicians who had known her for decades as a book-playing bureaucrat.
Through the protests of 2019, have we ever seen Carrie Lam defend the Hong Kong system? he said. She should have stood up for the Basic Law and Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, but instead she happily sat with Beijing. Basic Law requires the EC to be responsible for both Hong Kong and Beijing. But is it possible when she has this job because Beijing gave her the job? It is a system that has always been doomed without democracy and without people voting for their leader.
The fact that Mr Lee has now been convicted and is awaiting jail time underscores the dramatic change in Hong Kong politics during Ms Lams’ tenure. Indeed, Ms. Lam will be remembered for presiding over the biggest changes to the one country model, two systems that have governed Hong Kong since 1997, ensuring a high degree of autonomy and a range of freedoms that distinguished the SAR from the mainland.
According to the model, the EC position was often described as being that of a servant for two masters, the office reporting not only to the people of Hong Kong and its Legislative Council, but also to Beijing, which appointed the EC, a post created after the change of power in 1997 to replace the post of governor under British rule.
This inherent tension has always made Hong Kong the post of leader somewhat of a poisoned chalice, leaving each successive occupier to face a growing chasm with growing calls for genuine democracy from young Hong Kongers on the one hand, and a decreasing tolerance for welcoming them to Beijing on the other.
Ms. Lam, in a sense, has resolved this tension, making it clear that there is, after all, only one master.
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