In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam throws in the towel

Carrie Lam will be able to recover her British passport. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive announced on Monday (April 4) that she would step down in June, after a five-year term marked by huge pro-democracy protests, fierce repression and a failure to manage the epidemic of coronavirus and its variant Omicron. She has made it known that she will not run for a second term in May, when a select committee appoints the city’s next leader. Once released from this high responsibility, she will recover her British passport which she had to give up in 2017.

In 2017, she became the first woman to lead Hong Kong.

“I will complete my five-year term as Chief Executive on June 30 and officially end my 42-year career in government”, she announced to the press. The outgoing chief assured that the leaders of Beijing, whom she warned of her intentions in March 2021, “understood and respected” his choice. Carrie Lam, 64, justified it with “family considerations”. “I have to put my family members first, and they feel it’s time for me to go home”, she said. Her husband and two children live in London. After a long career as a civil servant, in 2017 she became the first woman to lead Hong Kong.

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The post of Chief Executive does not result from a direct election, which was one of the main demands of the Democratic camp, now silenced. It is a committee of 1,500 people, all loyal to the Chinese regime, which appoints the leader. This electoral college represents 0.02% of a population of 7.4 million. Predictions as to who will be the next leader of the territory, the world’s third largest financial center, are uncertain. The new chief executive will be chosen on May 8 but, for the time being, no realistic candidate has emerged.

The chief executive is appointed by a committee of 1,500 people chosen by Beijing

However, Hong Kong’s current number two, John Lee, a former security service, has been touted by the local press as a likely candidate. Another potential suitor: Finance Minister Paul Chan. Two very different options, one favoring the maintenance of order and the other an economic priority for this territory which has lost its aura of great financial center. The next leader will take office on July 1, the 25th anniversary of the return of the former British colony to China.

Carrie Lam also thanked Beijing for its support and confidence, recalling that her mandate had been marked by “unprecedented pressure” with the 2019 protests and the Covid-19 pandemic. But his record divides the city. Her supporters see her as an unyielding Beijing loyalist who held her ground during the 2019 protests and during the pandemic. Her critics, including many Western countries, see her as the one who oversaw the collapse of Hong Kong’s political freedoms and its reputation as a stable regional business hub.

After the huge and sometimes violent protests of 2019, the Chinese central government staged a massive crackdown in the city in order to put its authoritarian stamp on it. Carrie Lam is the first Hong Kong leader to be sanctioned by the United States for her support of the crackdown, which led to leading pro-democracy activists being jailed or exiled.

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His government also followed the Chinese model of “zero Covid”, implementing some of the toughest anti-coronavirus measures in the world. If the closure of borders and draconian quarantine rules prevented any local epidemic for eighteen months, the Omicron variant has led to a record mortality rate, with nearly 8,000 deaths since the beginning of the year.


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