16 February 2019
Carrie Lam doesn't seem to have the courage to pursue her policies in case of widespread opposition. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam doesn't seem to have the courage to pursue her policies in case of widespread opposition. Photo: HKEJ

Why Carrie Lam’s resignation vow is hurting her campaign

“If the mainstream opinion of Hong Kong people renders me unsuitable to serve as chief executive, I will resign,” chief executive candidate Carrie Lam declared during a televised debate on Tuesday night.

Her statement sparked a lot of controversy both in the pro-democracy and establishment camps.

Here is a politician who wants to lead Hong Kong but doesn’t seem to have the courage and commitment to win the support of those who oppose her.

But in less than 24 hours after her resignation pledge, Lam changed her stance by clarifying that she wouldn’t stand down just because of low public approval ratings. She blamed media for misinterpreting her statement.

“The chief executive has very important constitutional role under ‘One Country, Two Systems’, which is enshrined in the Basic Law. He has a dual responsibility, both to the Hong Kong SAR and the central people’s government”, Lam said.

“So just in case, of course I don’t want this eventuality to happen, but just in case it is contradictory to the faithful and truthful execution of the Basic Law, then the chief executive, in my view, should resign, because he or she will not be able to discharge that constitutional function, enshrined in the Basic Law, while respecting the mainstream view of the Hong Kong people,” she said.

Lam said there was no need to define “mainstream opinion” by figures, and said a feeling of the genuine pulse of the public would suffice.

This was not the first time that Lam had to clarify her public statements during the campaign.

She is articulate, no doubt. In fact, we could say she appears to be superior to her rivals John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing when it comes to debating skills.

But the problem is that many people no longer believe everything that she says.

At the debate on Tuesday night, Lam appeared arrogant. She was always smiling, but there was no sincerity in her expression.

Not surprisingly, her performance at the debate earned her thousands of “angry” emoticons on a Facebook survey conducted by Citizen News.

In fact, her clarification on Wednesday afternoon about her resignation remarks only made it clear to the public that she had said something wrong during the debate.

She had to wiggle out of the messy situation she herself had created by setting conditions that would prompt her to quit the post.

Despite her clarification, many political pundits believe that her remarks on resignation would stick with her throughout her entire term should she become the next chief executive, as the public would go back to her statement and ask her to quit if she failed to settle social conflicts.

Why, in the first place, did Lam express her intention to resign in case she fails to win public support?

Was it a Freudian slip? Maybe it simply shows that she is absolutely confident that she will win the election.

And once she becomes the chief executive, she will not focus on her popularity ratings but simply make sure that she serves the interests of her Beijing bosses and their local loyalists.

In denigrating the significance of popularity ratings by noting that they always have their ups and downs, Lam seems to be saying that Tsang’s popularity will not win him the election and Leung’s unpopularity did not prevent him from getting promoted to a state leader.

Lam’s controversial statements will most probably dominate the campaign until the 1,194 members of the Election Committee cast their votes on March 26.

Several establishment figures expressed concern over Lam’s statements, saying Beijing may not want to see Lam to resign when she feels she lacks public support. Quitting in the face of public opposition is not expected of a true leader.

Independent legislator Paul Tse said Lam may come to regret the comments.

“Lam, perhaps on reflection, should not have said it at all. That would leave her exposed to questions in future as to when or under what circumstances is she going to resign. That’s just opening a can of worms for herself,” Tse said.

New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien questioned if Lam should continue with her campaign, considering that she’s behind in major opinion polls. In fact, he said, he was inclined to support Tsang.

Tien, who is in Beijing to attend the annual National People’s Congress meeting, said people will be scared if their leader easily quits in the face of public pressure.

Polls conducted by various groups after the debate showed Lam was behind Tsang.

In an apparent attempt to shift public attention from her resignation remarks, Lam pledged to change the current financial officials to implement her new financial philosophy, which is to boost public spending for social welfare and other services.

Once again, this plan of hers is likely to trigger controversy. 

Five years ago, the central government did not allow CY Leung to appoint new financial officials, and kept Tsang and Chan Ka-keung in their posts to maintain the stability of the city’s financial system.

With less than two weeks to go before the election, Lam must reboot her campaign to ensure her victory, even if she has already secured the support of most of the city’s business elite.

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EJ Insight writer

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