18 March 2019
Carrie Lam has a stable public approval rating in the run-up to July 1 when she officially assumes office. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam has a stable public approval rating in the run-up to July 1 when she officially assumes office. Photo: HKEJ

Why Carrie Lam is keeping a low profile

In just a month’s time, Carrie Lam will assume the helm as Hong Kong chief executive, but it is quite strange that she has been keeping a low profile in the past few weeks except to fuel some speculation about her prospective cabinet.

She even had nothing to say regarding Zhang Dejiang’s recent statement about “one country, two systems”.

It seems that Lam’s silence is working to her benefit but is keeping quiet about sensitive issues during the transition a good tactic?

Indeed, Lam has a stable public approval rating in the run-up to July 1 when she officially assumes office.

A recent survey by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, showed that the overall performance rating of the chief executive-elect was 54.8 on average compared with 54.5 last month.

She gained points during the past four weeks when she kept a low profile while her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, attacked lawmaker Kenneth Leung on his UGL probe.

At the same time, Leung’s performance rating stood at 39.2 on average. He failed to win public support in the UGL saga, especially after he was found to have interfered with the investigation by the Legislative Council.

From a macro perspective, Hong Kong people are split over the performance of Lam, Leung and the central government.

The same survey also found that only 23 percent of Hong Kong people trust the central government while 37.1 percent do not and 31.1 percent are neutral.

The conclusion is clear: Hong Kong people hope Lam will perform well but they have no trust in Beijing and Leung.

Against this backdrop, it is easy to understand why Lam keeps her silence whereas Leung and Beijing’s top leaders continue to express their views on the future of “one country two systems”.

Of course, Lam will be under Beijing’s thumb as the central authorities continue to tighten their grip on Hong Kong.

If she proactively responds to Beijing, she might only be following in the footsteps of Leung, showing she is a loyalist rather than the leader of Hong Kong.

It is also not possible for her to argue with Beijing officials as all state leaders are her bosses, including Leung. She has no choice but to turn a blind eye to avoid being tainted by the empty political debate.

Still, Lam needs to form a capable cabinet to ensure a smooth administration. With prospective cabinet members yet to be announced, Hong Kong may be disappointed by the lack of capable people in her cabinet.

The top three positions in the cabinet — chief secretary, financial secretary and justice secretary — could be filled by the incumbents as Lam continues to have difficulties finding their replacements.

Or it could be that Beijing wants to keep the status quo.

The new cabinet, according to the recent leaks, could disappoint most Hong Kong people who have been expecting change after five years of Leung.

On Monday, Civic Party lawmakers met Lam to discuss what she plans to do in her first 100 days in office.

The party reportedly shared some do’s and dont’s if Lam wants to win the trust of democrats.

The list of do’s included appointing people based on merit, communicating with all lawmakers, mending the political divide and re-opening Civic Square, abolishing allegiance declaration in Legislative Council nomination form, defending the rule of law and scrapping a plan to co-locate mainland and local officers at the West Kowloon rail terminus and suspending the Basic Competency Assessment examination.

The don’ts included allowing the liaison office’s meddling in Hong Kong affairs, ignoring procedural justice, launching legal battles to suppress dissidents, colluding with businesses and gangsters over land issues and evading responsibility to relaunch the political reform process.

From the democrats’ perspective, what the Civic Party wanted should be the bottom line for mutual trust between the opposition camp and the incoming administration.

According to media reports, Lam has yet to respond. If she can achieve several points and avoid sensitive and controversial issues, she should be able to enjoy a honeymoon period with the opposition.

But if Beijing and Leung force her to play dirty tricks on the democrats, she could emerge as CY 2.0 in the eyes of the people.

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EJ Insight writer

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