How Lam repeatedly failed to seize chances to cool the tensions

October 17, 2019 18:20
Carrie Lam has shown that she lacks political sensitivity and the right instincts to function as an effective leader, critics say, as the Hong Kong crisis drags on. Photo: Reuters

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had stirred up a huge firestorm with her extradition bill, but she could still have ridden out the crisis and managed a comeback if she had shown the necessary political vision and leadership instincts.

There were a lot of things she could have done to de-escalate the tensions in society and resuscitate her rock-bottom popularity.

Among the possible moves, expressions of empathy for ordinary citizens who suffered hardships would have been very helpful.

For example, Lam should have visited an elderly traveler who got stranded at the airport during a blockade by protesters.

Meanwhile, she should also have stepped forward and expressed a wish to visit a young woman who sustained a critical eye injury on Aug. 11 during a clash between protesters and the police.

Visiting the injured woman, Lam could have also ordered an inquiry into the incident.

Such gesture would have sent out a message that the chief executive cares for the people, whoever it may be.

Among other things that she could have done, Lam should have called for total transparency on a police crackdown that took place at Prince Edward MTR Station on Aug. 31 against protesters.

That would have helped dispel suspicions among the public that authorities have something to hide as to what really happened that day. 

Last but not least, Lam should have arranged for a meeting with the heads of all the 10 universities in the city in order to reassure them of academic freedoms and dignity of education.

Initiatives such as all those mentioned above could have helped prevent the public sentiment from taking a precipitous slide.

However, as things turned out, Lam was found wanting in her judgment on all these as well as various other possible action plans. 

The sad truth, we have to conclude, is that the chief executive simply doesn’t have the necessary political sensitivity or political talent for making the right decisions that can lift her prospects.

I won't label Lam as being incompetent, but merely saying that she doesn't have the right political instincts.

We should remember, after all, that throughout her career in the civil service, she has only been trained as a bureaucrat, and not as a political leader.

Also, she didn't have enough political talents assisting her after she assumed the highest leadership post in the government.

The failure of Lam speaks volumes about why the “one country, two systems” principle has failed to live up to expectations.

It is because even though the idea itself is ground-breaking and brilliant, there has simply been a lack of politically talented people in the city to execute it.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 16

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former head of Department of Government and Public Administration, the Chinese University of Hong Kong