Hong Kong TV viewers got a rare treat from the first and only televised debate among the three candidates in the chief executive election on Tuesday night.
Former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, whose campaign had got off to a pretty bad start compared to the other two contenders, seemed to be coming back in good shape, outperforming both former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing in the debate.
After coming under fire for going back on her word and announcing her candidacy hastily, as well as her poor public relations skills, Carrie Lam seems to be finally getting into her stride.
As the March 26 election approaches, things appear to be falling into place for her.
Her phenomenal comeback may have something to do with the recent promotion of outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Lam’s campaign didn’t start off well because when she announced her candidacy in haste in December, she was unable to dissociate herself immediately and completely from the highly unpopular Leung administration. Leung was still her immediate superior at the time she declared her intention to run.
If she had split up with her boss so eagerly and immediately right after the announcement of her candidacy, she could have appeared treacherous in the public eye, which could have undermined her image.
As such, Lam was at a huge disadvantage at the beginning of her campaign compared to Tsang and Woo, with many dismissing her as just another version of CY Leung, or “CY 2.0”.
By force of circumstance she simply couldn’t disavow any connection with the current administration.
However, as Leung is now promoted to the rank of a state leader, Lam no longer has to live in the shadow of her former boss and can finally be her own woman.
In other words, she is no longer “CY 2.0” but is now “Carrie Lam 1.0”.
Even though Lam is still lagging behind Tsang in terms of approval ratings, she could close in fast.
Approval ratings can be volatile. A candidate’s popularity is not necessarily the prime consideration of Election Committee members when they cast their votes.
They might give priority to one’s public service experience and overall ability to execute policy initiatives over other qualities when deciding who to vote for, and that might work in Lam’s favor.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 15
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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