Are we set for a leadership change?

October 25, 2019 17:54
Having failed to calm things down in Hong Kong, is it going to be curtains for Carrie Lam? Photo: HKEJ

As the Hong Kong government struggles to put an end to the months-long unrest in the city, a media outlet reported on Wednesday, citing sources, that China is planning to replace Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor with an “interim” chief executive by March next year.

According to the London-based Financial Times, Norman Chan Tak-lam, the former chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Tang Ying-yen, the former chief secretary, are the “leading candidates” for the top Hong Kong job.

Article 53 of the Basic Law stipulates, “In the event that the office of Chief Executive becomes vacant, a new Chief Executive shall be selected within six months in accordance with the provisions of Article 45 of this Law.”

If the FT report is true, Lam will have to step down very soon in order to allow the government sufficient time to hold a chief executive by-election so that the new “interim” chief executive will be able to assume office in March next year.

Meanwhile, Article 53 also says, “If the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is not able to discharge his or her duties for a short period, such duties shall temporarily be assumed by the Administrative Secretary, Financial Secretary or Secretary of Justice in this order of precedence.”

As such, once Lam has stepped down, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung would serve as the acting chief executive before the new leader is appointed.

It is generally believed that the chances of Cheung running for the CE post himself are remote, because he is seen by many as only a transitional figure.

Meanwhile, there is this possible scenario: in a bid to make sure that the person it favors can get into power smoothly, Beijing may first appoint its hand-picked successor as the chief secretary. That will ensure that by the time Lam steps down, the No. 2 person would have “warmed up” and be ready to take the top job in a few months.

The merit of this approach is that it can allow Beijing to test the water: if that hand-picked “No. 2” is unable to gain favor with the society, then the central authorities can immediately switch to another candidate.

Now, turning our attention back to the FT report, we should bear in mind that Chan and Tang have both been tipped as chief executive hopefuls by the media on many occasions before.

After he lost to Leung Chun-ying in the 2012 chief executive election, Tang has remained in the spotlight in his capacity as a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, gaining in popularity in the eyes of the public.

As to Chan, who has retired from his position as the HKMA head on Sept. 30, there is talk that he is considering returning to the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, which was co-founded by him back in 2006.

We can only wait and see if Chan uses the think tank as a platform to keep himself in the public eye to pave the path for a run for the chief executive post.

Whatever happens and whoever ultimately gets the top job, there is something the person would do well to keep in mind.

Given the “civic awakening” of the people of Hong Kong as a result of the anti-extradition bill saga, if the interim CE fails to respond to the public's call for an independent inquiry into the recent events, chances are the new leader might not find it easy to hang in there for long just by banking on personal charisma and popularity.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.