Carrie Lam and the sin of arrogance

June 17, 2019 15:15
Chief Executive Carrie Lam: people simply could not countenance her ego. Photo: AFP

According to The New York Times, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's move to suspend the reviled extradition bill is the biggest political retreat under the reign of President Xi Jinping. The central government now has severe doubts about her capabilities, Reuters reports, citing a source in Beijing with ties to China’s leadership who meets regularly with senior officials.

Almost every local paper splashed on the two million Hongkongers who took to the streets on Sunday not only to show that they are dissatisfied with the mere suspension of legislative work on the bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland they want a complete withdrawal of the proposal but also to reject her apology, which Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun described as "too little, too late", coming as it did through a government statement, and ask her to step down.

It's not hard for anyone to see that Carrie Lam's days are numbered because, as her critics assert, she has completely lost her credibility to lead Hong Kong. It's now up to Beijing to take the next step.

On June 9, during a massive demonstration with a record turnout of more than a million people, Lam probably still had an opportunity to redeem herself, but she instead decided to press ahead with the legislation, and this led to another huge protest on June 12, which turned violent as police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds on the young activists.

In the face of public outrage, she finally relented and shelved the proposal on Saturday, but she did it in the most upsetting manner, justifying her actions, defending police action on the protesters, chastising reporters, and refusing to answer directly when she was asked – seven times - if she would resign, and to apologize for what she had done.

And so the two million Hongkongers came out to tell her that her time was up.

She insists that her administration has brought relative calm and harmony in society, an improvement from the atmosphere of rancor that had prevailed in the past regime, but whatever she has done has been undone by this legislative initiative of hers that threatens to demolish the rule of law and the freedoms we enjoy in Hong Kong.

And the fact that the proposal would affect not just Hongkongers but citizens of other countries who are in Hong Kong – even those who are just visiting or passing by – has made it all the more disturbing for it brings the distinct probability that Hong Kong would turn into a pariah in the community of nations – so goodbye to our status as an international financial center, to our self-proclaimed image as Asia's world city.

But because of her stubbornness, her arrogance, her hubris, she has refused to consider all these dangers that her proposal would bring. And in that sense, she is worse than her predecessor – whose name many would not even want to mention. The people simply could not countenance her ego.

But we should not put the entire blame on Carrie Lam. Her core team is just as terrible. She had picked the wrong individual to be her secretary for justice, a woman who has been enmeshed in scandals and other controversies from day one, and is now worse off in terms of popularity than her financial secretary who has the charisma of a damp rag.

Of course, the chief executive is devoted to her job. Someone joked that she might be more hardworking than James Bond, who works from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week (007).

But working too hard seems counterproductive. That is why she might consider spending more time with her family. 

After her apology, we would suggest she should take a long summer break. She needs it. We need it, too.

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EJ Insight writer