How Carrie Lam secures her legitimacy to rule

December 20, 2019 17:04
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, shown here at a press conference in Beijing on Monday, has received expressions of support from the state leaders amid the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

On Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor went to Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to report on the current situation in Hong Kong and the SAR administration’s work.

Perhaps what is most noteworthy about the remarks of Xi and Li is that they have both elevated the “degree of grimness” of the ongoing situation in Hong Kong.

While Xi, for the first time, described Hong Kong as being in a “special period”, Li said our city is in an unprecedentedly severe and complicated situation, and that it is still facing difficulties.

State media didn’t touch on how exactly Beijing is going to guide Hong Kong out of its current woes.

And like in her previous duty visits to Beijing, perhaps what people would have the deepest impression about Lam’s trip this time is her pledge of allegiance to the central authorities, as well as the repeated expression of support by the state leaders for her and the SAR government.

With mainland China witnessing a return to the leftist track in recent years, it has already become routine for local and provincial government officials to publicly pledge allegiance and express their “heartfelt” gratitude to their Beijing bosses.

And party propaganda mouthpieces quote such compliments heaped on state leaders.

Under the Basic Law, the chief executive is accountable to both the central government and the Hong Kong SAR.

However, the reality is that the legitimacy for Lam to serve as our city’s leader doesn’t come from the Basic Law or the mandate of the Hong Kong people, but from the central authorities’ support as a reward for her allegiance.

And this explains why she has remained in her position or, at least for the time being, she has not been held accountable, despite the tide of public opinion in Hong Kong turning overwhelmingly against her and the crushing defeat of the pro-establishment camp in the recent District Council elections.

As such, until there is a real accountability mechanism in place, the Basic Law provisions about the chief executive being accountable to the HKSAR will only exist on paper – and mainstream public opinion will continue to be ignored.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 19

Translation by Alan Lee 

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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