Carrie Lam will take over as Hong Kong’s chief executive on July 1, which is still a good three months away.
As she selects her cabinet and prepares her new policies, Lam faces the delicate task of managing relations with the incumbent.
Leung Chun-ying wanted a second term but was at the last moment ordered not to run by Beijing, which did not want five more years of his divisive politics.
Instead, it gave him the consolation prize of a vice-chairmanship in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), making him a “national leader”.
It is a prestigious post but carries no power, even over Hong Kong affairs. Nor does it bring legal immunity from prosecution for anything he has done in Hong Kong.
The next three months are a transition period, during which the power rests with CY while Lam wants to build her authority as the new leader.
The first point of conflict has already occurred. Last week Lam said the government should drop the Basic Competency Assessment for all primary schools that is opposed by many parents.
In this, she is supported by 36 legislators on both sides of the political divide who signed a joint letter demanding that the test be dropped. But Leung insists that it be implemented in May.
On March 27, the Department of Justice announced charges against nine people involved in the Occupy protests, just one day after Lam won the election on her promise to unite Hong Kong society.
The announcement immediately challenged this promise; one half of society regards the nine as criminals, the other half as heroes of democracy.
Lam’s main challenge now is to show that she is not “CY Number Two”. That is one of the main reasons why Beijing selected her.
Within the constraints imposed on her by her political masters, she must present herself as the leader of all Hong Kong people, not only the pro-Beijing half.
She started this process by waiting a day after her election before calling on the central government offices here and insisting that these were protocol visits only.
Leung is close to Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Liaison Office here; Lam has made it clear she will keep an appropriate distance from him.
“The Lord gave me this calling to continue to serve Hong Kong,” she said. “I responded to this call.”
Lam is a devout Catholic who last Thursday attended a Mass for Donald Tsang, who is now serving time in prison.
From this, we can conclude she is not a member, underground or above it, of the Communist Party; it requires its members to be atheist. Many in Hong Kong believe that CY is an underground member.
Lam is trying to form a broad cabinet, with people of different political beliefs and not only those recommended by the Liaison Office.
“People will be chosen based on their ability and willingness to serve,” she said.
This is a good way to bring the community together, to hear different voices and make a more representative administration.
The obstacles are that the Democrats have ruled that no party member can join; and that applicants from the business and professional world will face aggressive scrutiny by the media of their own lives and those of their families; many are not prepared to accept this.
A big decision to be made by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is whether to investigate Leung over the HK$50 million which he received from Australian firm UGL. The Department of Justice would then decide whether to make a prosecution. Leung insists that everything he did was legal.
In November 2012, he apologized to the public over illegal structures at his home on the Peak. Critics asked why he had waited until then to disclose several more unauthorized works in addition to the six identified by government officials in June that year.
Under the Basic Law, the ICAC and the Department of Justice enjoy constitutional independence. The justice secretary would inform Lam of pending prosecutions, as a matter of information but not to obtain her sanction.
Such an investigation would also be in accord with the repeated statements of Chinese leader Xi Jinping that no-one, whatever their position, is above the law.
If the ICAC brought a case against Leung, Beijing would not come to his rescue.
In January, a mainland court sentenced Su Rong, 66, a CPPCC vice-chairman, to life in prison for taking 116 million yuan (US$16.84 million) in bribes between 2002 and 2014. His personal assets were confiscated.
– Contact us at [email protected]