Alas, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will have to look for a new deputy if he wins reelection in 2017.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who arguably has the second toughest job in Hong Kong, told three newspapers she will retire after her term ends in 17 months and 10 days.
Lam has had a bumpy ride since she became No. 2 in Leung’s government in 2012.
Last year, she saw the defeat of the election reform bill and a public pushback against planned changes to the retirement pension scheme.
Now she faces the prospect of not seeing her West Kowloon District dreams come to fruition, with no single building completed before her term ends.
Once the most popular official in the administration, Lam hit a new low in her approval rating last year and tumbled behind Financial Secretary John Tsang.
She put it all in perspective in a wide-ranging interview with three pro-government newspapers (Sing Tao, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao), telling them it could be her last. The interview was published Thursday.
She used the occasion to discuss her retirement plans which don’t include a run for higher office, so there will be no Hong Kong version of Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen.
But her ebbing popularity is a non-issue.
“It does not affect me,” she said, adding the opposite would only make it harder for her to leave office.
“It’s better this way. I can gradually step down.”
Lam, who has been in the civil service for 37 years, is no stranger to the underside of public opinion.
In 2012, just two months into her new job as Hong Kong’s No. 2, she broke down on television in the aftermath of a mass protest against a proposed national education program.
Things went from bad to worse in the following two years when she faced a hostile legislature nearly every time she tabled a government proposal.
Filibustering by pan-democrats derailed some key initiatives including the first attempt to establish an innovation and technology bureau and now the copyright amendment bill.
She had something to say about that.
“Legislators must understand not everything can go according to their wishes,” she said in the interview.
“Legco members have to be accountable for their behavior and not pass the burden to us.”
Lam said pan-democrats should be fair to her boss and not oppose him all the time.
She said the most radical of them have ideas that are no different from Leung’s.
Lam is ramping up her criticism of opposition lawmakers in the run-up to this year’s Legco elections.
She went off on them last year after some dared her staff to drink water from a residential estate at the center of a lead-in-water scandal, calling their behavior “undignified”.
She contrasted herself with her critics, saying she has more guts on issues because she has “nothing more to pursue in my career”.
When she was criticized for her supposedly “evil” stance on social welfare, she famously blurted “there’s a place reserved for me in heaven”.
No doubt Lam will keep fighting to the end and when she steps down, her successor will have big shoes to fill.
Spare a thought for education chief Eddie Ng, a Leung ally who is a favorite whipping boy for anti-establishment critics because of his mediocre performance.
Imagine if he succeeded Lam. He would be a sitting duck in Legco but at least he will accomplish his wish to read 30 books a month while waiting out one filibuster after another.
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