News analysis

Why it will be hard for Carrie Lam to live up to promises

She has to deal with democracy calls and China's hardline stance

Just a day after Hong Kong's newly elected Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed to heal political divisions, nine pro-democracy activists were informed by police yesterday that they will be prosecuted for their roles in the Occupy protests two years ago.

The nine include the main protest organisers, Dr Benny Tai, Reverend Chu Yiu Ming and Dr Chan Kin Man, as well as six student activists and legislators. They have to appear in court on Thursday to face charges of causing public nuisance.

The development, which sparked anger among supporters of the pro-democracy camp, has put the spotlight on the challenges ahead for the city's new leader.

Political scientist James Sung said: "Unfortunately, this will make people think that Carrie Lam does not live up to her promise to deliver a peaceful gesture to the pro-democracy camp."

Government critics also questioned the timing of the prosecutions, with some even calling it an act of "sabotage" by incumbent Leung Chun Ying against his successor.


Supporters clamouring for souvenir shots with Mrs Carrie Lam, a day after she was elected as the new Chief Executive in Hong Kong on Sunday. Mrs Lam has vowed to heal political divisions but the decision to prosecute nine pro-democracy activists has thrown a spanner in the works for her. PHOTO: REUTERS

The 777 votes she received from the pro-establishment camp will give her a head start in her five-year term. But she will need support from the pro-democracy camp to take things forward. One way is to convince some moderate pro-democracy lawmakers to join her Executive Council or Cabinet.

 
 

Dr Chan said: "Carrie Lam said she wanted to mend society, but the message we got today is prosecution. I don't see how society's cracks can be mended."

Demands for democracy in the city have hardly receded following the demonstrations in 2014, when protesters demanded universal suffrage.

The case of how five Hong Kong booksellers went missing in 2015 and later resurfaced in the mainland further sparked public outrage over what many see as the Chinese authorities taking extralegal action in breach of the "One Country, Two Systems" framework.

In January, the mysterious abduction of Chinese tycoon Xiao Jianhua from an apartment at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong, and the attempt by the Hong Kong government to disqualify four pro-democracy lawmakers from the legislature the following month, resulted in more fears that the city's autonomy is eroding.

Sunday's election had pitted Beijing against the pro-democracy camp, said Professor Lau Siu Kai, the vice-chairman of the Beijing-backed Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.

"The opposition had insisted on supporting (former financial chief) John Tsang" over Mrs Lam, who is widely seen as Beijing's preferred candidate, said Prof Lau, adding that "many opposition figures might continue a confrontational stance against Carrie Lam and Beijing".

Former lawmaker and chairman of the Democratic Party, Ms Emily Lau, feels that Mrs Lam will "get nowhere if Beijing does not drop its hardline stance against Hong Kong".

And the prosecution of the pro-democracy figures seems to indicate that Beijing is unlikely to do so.

There is a possibility that the orders came from Beijing and Mrs Lam has nothing to do with it, some analysts said.

But there is nothing Mrs Lam can do now as she does not have any power until July 1, said political analyst Willy Lam.

When asked by reporters about the timing of the prosecutions yesterday, Mrs Lam said she cannot intervene in a legal case.

Such a reply will not earn her any respect or differentiate her from the unpopular Mr Leung, according to analyst Johnny Lau.

It is clear that there will be no honeymoon period for Mrs Lam, who has to do more than what the public expects.

The 777 votes she received from the pro-establishment camp will give her a head start in her five-year term. But she will need support from the pro-democracy camp to take things forward.

One way is to convince some moderate pro-democracy lawmakers to join her Executive Council or Cabinet.

"I think the important thing for her is to find a way to create a platform so she can have a regular dialogue with pro-democracy lawmakers. Get their feedback in formulating policies so that she can get a consensus," Ms Lau told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'Why it will be hard for Carrie Lam to live up to promises'. Print Edition | Subscribe