Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said Monday that she will not seek re-election after a tumultuous five years that included massive rallies calling for her resignation, a security crackdown that stifled opposition, and, most recently, a COVID-19 outbreak that swamped the health system.
Her replacement will be chosen in May, and one of the likely candidates is the city’s security head during the 2019 demonstrations.
“On the 30th of June this year, I will conclude my five-year tenure as chief executive, as well as my 42 years of public service,” Lam remarked during a news conference. She expressed gratitude to her local officials as well as Beijing’s central authorities, and stated that her “only priority” is to spend more time with her family.
Months of speculation circulated around whether she would seek re-election, but she said her choice was communicated to Beijing’s central government last year and greeted with “respect and understanding.”
“I was under a lot of pressure less than two years into my chief executive tenure due of the anti-extradition bill, foreign involvement, and the COVID-19 attack,” Lam explained. “However, the central authorities’ unwavering backing provided me with the impetus to keep on.”
She ruled over a time during which Beijing solidified its grip on the former British colony, which was restored to China in 1997. Even after Hong Kong was promised 50 years of semi-autonomous governance from the mainland, the city swayed back and forth for years between cries for more independence and mounting signals of China expanding its influence into the territory.
Lam’s popularity plummeted throughout her five-year reign, owing to legislation that would have permitted criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China for prosecution, as well as her leadership during the 2019 demonstrations, which saw police and demonstrators brawl violently.
She also backed a national security law enacted by Beijing and implemented by her government, which was seen as undermining the “one country, two systems” framework that promised city residents would retain freedoms not found on mainland China after the handover from Britain, such as a free press and freedom of expression.
In the years afterwards, the security law and other police and judicial operations have effectively wiped out the city’s pro-democracy movement, with activists and sympathizers being detained or imprisoned. Others have gone into hiding.
According to Hong Kong media, the city’s No. 2 leader, John Lee, is expected to run for Lam’s successor. During the 2019 demonstrations, Chief Secretary Lee was the city’s head of security, and he is renowned for his backing for the police and his severe stance against demonstrators.
A committee of politicians, representatives from many businesses and professions, and pro-Beijing representatives such as Hong Kong delegates to China’s legislature elects Hong Kong’s leader. Direct election of the city’s chief executive was one of the unmet objectives of the 2019 demonstrations.
The chief executive election was scheduled for March 27 but was postponed to May 8 due to the city’s biggest coronavirus epidemic of the pandemic.
Even if a committee of just 1,462 individuals is engaged, Lam claims that holding the elections as planned will cause “public health dangers.”
Lam has held positions in the civil service such as chief secretary, secretary for development, and others. Her firm attitude and reluctance to back down in political conflicts earned her the moniker “excellent fighter.”
When Lam was appointed Secretary of State for Development in 2007, she relinquished her British citizenship. Her spouse and two children were born in the United Kingdom and have preserved their British citizenship.