Who can replace Carrie Lam?

September 03, 2019 14:04
Following a leaked audio recording which shows Carrie Lam saying that she would resign if she had a choice, will Beijing rethink its options and allow her to go? Photo: Reuters

Spare a thought for Carrie Lam, who has said that she would quit if she had a choice.

The embattled CE has admitted to causing “unforgivable havoc” in Hong Kong with her extradition bill misadventure, as per a leaked audio recording obtained by Reuters.

Lam is aware that she is probably the most disliked person in the city right now, sure to be greeted by black-clad protesters whenever she steps out.

Speaking of the tragedy that had befallen her, Lam told some businesspeople during a closed-door gathering that she now has trouble even going to a shopping mall or a hair salon.

Following the publishing of the private conversation, which was said to have taken place last week, Lam on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that the recording may have been deliberately leaked to the media by the government or possibly even herself.

Denouncing the leak but not denying the authenticity of the purported exchange, Lam insisted that she had never considered quitting as she believes it is her duty to persevere and clean things up.

The 62-year-old said she intends to stay on in her job, however difficult it may be, and steer Hong Kong out of its woes.

Well, that might just be wishful thinking, given the leaked audio and the ensuing embarrassment all around.

Now that the genie is out, it is quite likely that Beijing will have to kick-start Plan B and scout for Lam's replacement.

A popular theory suggests that Beijing is looking at three people – all bearing the surname Chan – for the Hong Kong top job.

First, it is Paul Chan, the incumbent financial secretary who had once been a legislator representing the accounting sector.

The finance chief had earlier been mocked for low popularity ratings, but he is now no longer in the bottom three in the current administration. That dubious distinction would go to Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, Security Secretary John Lee and, of course, Carrie Lam herself.

It is quite reasonable to assume that the financial secretary would get the call, especially as we may have to rule out Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung in view of his health issues.

Executive Council convener Bernard Chan, meanwhile, is another possible contender. The 53-year-old businessman had been widely considered a frontrunner for the next CE race despite that fact that he is an administration outsider.

Well, former top leaders Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying were also picked from outside the administration, so Bernard Chan should have no problems on that front.

That being said, there is one thing that might work against the ExCo convener. Would Beijing want to hand over the reins to someone who failed to give proper advice to Lam on the extradition law issue, paving way for the big summer disaster?

That leaves the central authorities with a third option -- Margaret Chan, the former World Health Organization director-general who had earlier served many years in the Hong Kong government and had been the first woman to head the Department of Health.

The lady had been embroiled in a controversy related to personal expenditure during her WHO tenure, accused of spending extravagantly on first-class tickets and five-star hotel stays in Africa.

However, that may not be enough to disqualify her from the race if Beijing does indeed decide to replace Lam.

Margaret Chan has been in the news of late for reportedly saying that Hong Kong needs to step up patriotic education to ensure that youth understand China and 'one country, two systems' better.

Patriotic teachers should be recruited for liberal studies courses, she believes, a suggestion that would definitely win her more points from President Xi, who is said to view her as a trusted lieutenant.

Well, let the games begin!

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EJ Insight writer