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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announces she will not seek second term


Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has governed the global financial hub through the unprecedented upheaval of anti-government protests and COVID-19, said on Monday (April 4) that she will not seek a second five-year term of office.

"There is only one consideration and that is family. I have told everyone before that family is my top priority. They think it is time for me to go home," Lam told a regular press briefing.

The leadership election was pushed back from March 27 to give the government time to battle a COVID outbreak that has infected more than a million of the 7.4 million people in the former British colony.

Lam, born in British-ruled Hong Kong in 1957 and a life-long civil servant who describes herself as a devout Catholic, took office in 2017 as Chief Executive with a pledge to unite a city that was growing increasingly resentful of Beijing's tightening grip.

Two years later, millions took to the streets in sometimes violent anti-government protests that ultimately led Beijing to implement a sweeping national security law in June 2020, giving it more power than ever to shape life in Hong Kong.

Lam, in remarks to a group of businesspeople at the height of the unrest in 2019, said that if she had the choice she would quit, adding that the chief executive "has to serve two masters by the constitution, that is the central people's government and the people of Hong Kong."

The "political room for manoeuvring is very, very, very limited," she added in an audio recording obtained by Reuters.

In August 2020, the United States imposed sanctions on Lam, and a number of other Hong Kong and Chinese officials, saying they had undermined Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy from Beijing and curtailed political freedoms.

Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of wide-ranging freedoms, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest, for at least 50 years.

Chinese and Hong Kong authorities deny that individual rights are being eroded and say the security legislation was needed to restore stability after prolonged unrest.

The spark for the mass demonstrations in 2019 was a legislation proposal since withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Many protesters demanded Lam quit at the time, and full democracy to select their own leader.

She is the least popular Hong Kong leader since the handover from British to Chinese rule, according to historical surveys from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute. Her support ratings fell from 63.6 per cent in July 2017 to 35.7 per cent in December 2021.

While Hong Kong's mini-constitution, or Basic Law, says universal suffrage for the city's leader is an "ultimate aim", all of its post-handover chief executives have been chosen by a small committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists.

Some historians point out that the British did nothing to promote democracy in Hong Kong until the final years of more than a century-and-a-half of colonial rule.

Lam's term ends in June 2022.

 

 

Lam's announcement came as local media said Chief Secretary John Lee, Hong Kong's second most senior official, was set to resign to join the race to replace Lam in May and become the Chinese-ruled city's next leader.

\Former police officer John Lee, was reported to be interested in running for the city's top job, according to local media, which could see Beijing signing off on the first security official to run the global financial hub.

Chief Secretary Lee is a former Hong Kong security chief and deputy police commissioner who was known as an anglophile during British colonial rule.

In recent years, he has been forceful in enacting China's harsher security regimen - with scores of democrats arrested, jailed or forced into exile, civil society groups forced to disband, and liberal media outlets raided by police and shuttered.

Hong Kong selects a leader every five years under a process that Beijing oversees behind the scenes. Since the city reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, there have been four chief executives, all of whom have struggled to balance the democratic aspirations of some residents with the vision of China's Communist Party leaders.

A nomination period for candidates began on Sunday (March 3) and will last for two weeks. The election is scheduled for May 8, with the new chief executive to take office on July 1.

Other possible Chief Executive candidates mentioned in local media include Financial Secretary Paul Chan, Chief Secretary John Lee and Margaret Chan, the former head of the World Health Organisation.

 

 

Published : April 04, 2022

By : Reuters