Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference on April 4, 2022 (POOL/Vincent Yu)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Monday that she would step down in June, following a period marked by massive pro-democracy protests and the city’s isolation from the rest of the world to protect itself from the Covid -19.
Ms Lam, backed by Beijing five years ago, said she would not aim for a second term in May, when a select committee appoints the city’s next leader.
“I will complete my five-year term as chief executive on June 30 and officially end my 42-year career in government,” Ms Lam told reporters.
The 64-year-old leader assured that Beijing’s leaders, whom she warned of her intentions in March 2021, had “understood and respected” her choice, which she justified through “family considerations”.
“I have to put my family members first, and they think it’s time for me to go home,” she said.
After a career as a civil servant, Ms Lam became the first woman to lead Hong Kong in 2017.
According to Kenneth Chan, a political science professor at Baptist University, Hong Kong’s leaders continue to suffer a “chronic legitimacy crisis” because they are elected not by the citizens, but by a committee of 1,500 people who have all been won over to Beijing.
But Ms. Lam has lost support from all political parties, “not only among pro-democracy citizens, but increasingly in the pro-Beijing camp, because she has done a terrible job during the pandemic,” explained Mr Chan. off to AFP.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, during her appointment in May 2017 (AFP/ANTHONY WALLACE)
Predictions about the identity of the area’s next leader, the world’s third largest financial center, are uncertain.
The new CEO will be elected on May 8, but no realistic candidate has emerged for the time being.
Hong Kong’s current number two, John Lee, a former security agency, has been touted as a possible candidate by the local press.
Another potential candidate: Finance Minister Paul Chan.
– Sanctioned by Washington –
The next leader will take office on July 1, the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China.
The outgoing leader thanked Beijing for its support and recalled that her term was marked by “unprecedented pressure” with the 2019 protests and the Covid-19 pandemic.
His record divides the city.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam gives a press conference on the pandemic, March 21, 2022 (POOL/Vincent Yu)
Her supporters view her as an inflexible loyalist to Beijing who knows how to steer a course during crises.
“Let history judge its value,” said Starry Lee, leader of the largest pro-Beijing party, the DAB.
Conversely, many, including Western countries, see her as the one who oversaw the collapse of political freedoms in Hong Kong.
Following the massive and sometimes violent protests in 2019, the Chinese central government staged a massive crackdown in the city.
Carrie Lam is the first Hong Kong leader to be sanctioned by the United States for supporting the crackdown that led to the imprisonment or exile of key pro-democracy activists.
– Record unpopularity –
His government has also followed China’s “zero Covid” model and implemented some of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures in the world.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announces her departure at a press conference, April 4, 2022 (POOL/Vincent Yu)
If border closures and draconian quarantine rules prevented a local epidemic for 18 months, the Omicron variant has led to a record death rate, with nearly 8,000 deaths since the start of the year.
Over the past two years, Hong Kongers have left the territory at a rate not seen since the 1990s.
With the arrival of the Omicron variant and the even stricter lockdown of the city, thousands of foreign residents have also left, especially in the first quarter of 2022.
According to a poll by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, Ms Lam is expected to leave the post with the lowest popularity for a chief executive.
The Hong Kong Stock Exchange rose 1.4% after the announcement.
According to Ms Lam, her successor will have an easier life. “Compared to this term, the next government will have a more stable political climate,” she told reporters.
While the return of a protest movement is unlikely, Ms Lam’s successor will have to restore the confidence of international companies and tackle persistent problems in Hong Kong, such as the housing shortage.