19 January 2019
Restoring a sense of political security to the people of Hong Kong would be crucial to Carrie Lam’s success as a leader in the next five years. Photo: Bloomberg
Restoring a sense of political security to the people of Hong Kong would be crucial to Carrie Lam’s success as a leader in the next five years. Photo: Bloomberg

How Carrie Lam can clear the hurdles to effective governance

On April 11, Premier Li Keqiang issued State Council Order 678 in Beijing, officially appointing Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor the fifth chief executive of Hong Kong.

At the appointment ceremony, Li told Lam that he expected the incoming SAR administration to focus more on improving the livelihood of the people of Hong Kong.

Li’s “expectation” was in stark contrast to the remarks made by his predecessor Wen Jiabao on the same occasion five years ago, during which Wen told then Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-ying: “Hong Kong will see its best opportunity to expedite its democratization process over the next five years.”

Since Wen stepped down as premier in March 2013, words like “facilitating democratization in Hong Kong” have ceased to exist in the speeches of Beijing leaders.

Under President Xi Jinping, the mainland has witnessed a massive return to the leftist track in basically all aspects of society.

And the ideological guidelines of “Striving to build a harmonious society”, “adopting a scientific outlook on development” and “always staying vigilant against the toxic legacy of the Cultural Revolution” once promoted by former president Hu Jintao have now been replaced by Stalinist doctrines such as “absolute and unquestioning loyalty to the party leadership” and “always bearing in mind the importance of great political struggle”.

Under “One Country”, Hong Kong can by no means stay immune to the tense political atmosphere in the mainland.

As such, there is unlikely to be any room for relaunching political reforms in the city over the next five years.

Worse still, as Beijing continues to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, and public grievances against the status quo mount, the incoming administration under Carrie Lam is likely to face a lot of hurdles on its road to achieve effective governance and re-establish its credibility.

There are four major hurdles facing Carrie Lam in the days ahead:

First, the autocratic and paternalistic leadership adopted by President Xi as well as Beijing’s increasingly blatant interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs will undoubtedly fuel discontent among the local population and deepen public suspicions that Beijing could be working on its secret agenda to blur the boundary between “Two Systems” and expedite our city’s “mainlandization”.

Such suspicions are likely to exacerbate public distrust of the SAR administration, which many believe is complicit in Beijing’s secret mission to assimilate Hong Kong.

Given that, I expect public resistance movements in the city to gain momentum over the next five years.

Second, given the lack of channels for constructive dialogue between the government and pro-democracy parties as well as social resistance groups, the relations between the executive branch and the legislature are likely to deteriorate further in the days ahead, making it more difficult for Carrie Lam to press ahead with her policy initiatives.

Third, the fact that several high-ranking officials of the previous administration, including former CE Donald Tsang, were found guilty of corruption charges has taken an irreversible toll on the credibility of the government, something that could take years to rebuild.

And fourth, many people in Hong Kong are getting increasingly dismayed at the fact that our autonomy, rule of law and core values such as the respect for procedural justice are under serious threat as “One Country” is increasingly prevailing over “Two Systems”.

In order to address the crisis situation in Hong Kong and revive public confidence in “One Country, Two Systems” so as to prevent our city from becoming ungovernable, the next chief executive must take the initiative and restore a sense of political security to the people of Hong Kong.

The key to successfully restoring that sense of political security is for the new administration to truly commit itself to upholding our judicial independence and to fending off any external interference in our internal affairs, safeguarding our core values and defending the existing civil rights to which every citizen in Hong Kong is entitled.

The biggest threat to “One Country, Two Systems” comes from Beijing, which has become increasingly aggressive in overstepping its constitutional power and violating our autonomy.

One typical example is the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law last November, which disqualified several popularly elected lawmakers.

Another threat comes from pro-Beijing civilian groups in Hong Kong, which are eroding our rule of law from within by publicly showing outright disrespect for court decisions that are not to their liking and taking to the streets condemning or even threatening judges who they believe have been too lenient on pro-democracy activists.

The degree to which Carrie Lam is able to ward off these threats will determine whether she can achieve effective governance as she has promised.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 13

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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