Hong Kong basked in glorious sunshine yesterday as news broke that Carrie Lam would not be standing for a second term as chief executive. Most of the city’s residents will be keen to see the back of her – even more so than her deeply unpopular predecessor CY Leung, who retired under a similar cloud in 2017. During a tumultuous five-year tenure, Lam has quashed a popular protest of her own making, trampled on freedoms and become chief warden of one of Asia’s definitive quarantine cities.
Hong Kong desperately needs a fresh start and Lam’s early departure is Beijing’s way of acknowledging that its preferred candidate was simply not up to the job. Monday’s feel-good factor is unlikely to last, however, as thoughts turn to May’s election and the prospect of a new leader being selected under the reformed “patriots-only” framework. The next chief executive is most likely to be the government’s current number two, John Lee (pictured, on left, with Lam). A former police officer, Lee is Lam’s most trusted consigliere; a fresh face, yes, but no fresh start.
The pair have been thick as thieves since the protests in 2019 and Lee’s fingerprints are all over the ill-fated bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and ignited the civil unrest. Law enforcement is what Lee knows and his security experience is likely to serve him well as Hong Kong’s fifth chief executive. It’s a stark contrast to when Lam took the top job with designs on building a better city, sponsoring cultural development projects and vowing to take on property tycoons. The sun might be shining on Hong Kong this week but the forecast for the next five years continues to be gloomy.