21 October 2018
Carrie Lam denied prior knowledge of the arrests of democracy activists following her election but said these were justified. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam denied prior knowledge of the arrests of democracy activists following her election but said these were justified. Photo: HKEJ

After the ‘election’ – what next?

“Give Carrie a chance”, wail the usual suspects. Why, the poor woman has not even set foot in office and her critics are sharpening their knives, my-oh-my it’s so unfair. Except that it isn’t.

The wailers need to face certain realities: Carrie Lam is hardly an unknown quantity; she has been in public life for a long time and served in high-level political roles for some two decades.

What many people say about her appeared to be confirmed even during the so-called election campaign, when she was presumably on her best behavior. We saw her extreme reaction to critics by describing internet criticism as “white terror”, and we saw how she simply brushed off criticisms of her authoritarian handling of the Palace Museum saga.

Even though she went through the motions of campaigning, the reality is she was installed in office thanks to the efforts of the grey men in Beijing in the face of conclusive evidence that she was not even vaguely the people’s choice. So it is crystal clear whom she owes big time and it’s not Hong Kong’s people.

These grey men are now expecting Lam to carry out a mission, the exact terms of which are not known but it runs broadly on these lines: hound localists out of public life, CY will do most of the dirty work here but Lam is expected to mop up. Make sure that tough anti-subversion legislation is enacted and that patriotic indoctrination is stepped up, especially among the young. Finally, and it almost goes without saying, keep the machinery of government humming smoothly, do not be distracted by the demands of public opinion. If concessions have to be made to placate the public, make them in terms of cash but confine these handouts to gifts of a temporary nature.

No magic crystal ball is required to predict how things will pan out, even though some well-meaning optimists cling onto the unrealistic belief that Carrie will surprise us all and turn out to be a far more liberal and capable leader.

What the optimists entirely fail to realise is that her bosses in Beijing are not looking for liberalism; their aspirations are hardline and they are getting impatient over how long it takes to get things done.

One of the reasons the Beijing masters wanted Lam for the job is that they imagine that a civil service lifer would be more adept at making the wheels of government spin faster.

They really liked CY Leung but it became all too apparent that he was just too toxic to get things done. Now the bosses seem to believe that the mission given to CY can somehow be carried out by Lam without incurring the same level of toxicity – here is a perfect example of the triumph of hope over experience.

Anyone doubting this gloomy assessment needed to wait less than 24-hours following Lam’s so-called election. The following day, the round-up and prosecution of opposition leaders began.

Laughably we were told that the timing was nothing more than a coincidence. How stupid do they think we are?

Not only was the first stage of the round-up carefully planned but so was Lam’s response when she bustled up to the microphones to deny any pre-knowledge of this and to state that it was entirely justified.

The purge has only just begun; more opposition leaders are likely to be arrested and as the SAR’s 20th anniversary approaches the highly politicized policing of protests will be enhanced. Lam will then announce that this is being done in the name of rule of law.

Does anyone seriously believe that it will end there? Of course not, the hounding of Legco opposition members will be pursued at a more vigorous level and orders will go out to ensure that those who remain in the legislature are blocked at every turn when they attempt to call the administration to account.

Beijing’s obsession with the introduction of a new anti-subversion law, very much on the lines of that which was defeated when it was championed by Regina Ip, will be high on the lists of tasks given to Lam. It’s a fair bet that she will introduce a new law, probably in two years’ time.

The parameters of public protest will be increasingly narrowed; the police will be given new powers and freedom of expression, which is increasingly under siege and can expect to be further curtailed by new legislation and administrative decrees that will have a gagging effect.

The only big unknown is how the people of Hong Kong will respond. Recent history shows that people here are not that easily cowed in the face of increasing authoritarianism and diminishing autonomy but if the Lam administration really decides to take the gloves off and goes down the dangerous path of confrontation and suppression, will Hong Kong people still be brave enough to resist?

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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