HONG KONG • Hong Kong's new leader distanced herself from her predecessor's fraught relationship with lawmakers, vowing better communication as she sought to break years of political deadlock.
Five days after becoming the city's first female chief executive, Ms Carrie Lam went before the Legislative Council yesterday promising more frequent meetings with lawmakers. Hong Kong's former No. 2 said her government would lobby the chamber's 70 democratically elected members directly to ensure their concerns were heard.
"I am a bit saddened seeing the internal conflicts and scuffles in the past few years," Ms Lam said in a rare public critique of her ally and former boss, Mr Leung Chun Ying. "Seeing the poor administrative- legislative relationship and the lack of trust between officials and lawmakers slow down the speed of policy implementation, I am concerned, but not disheartened."
She delivered the olive branch days after Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over her inauguration on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule on a promise of a "high degree of autonomy".
Mr Xi - making his first visit since mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 - warned last Saturday that challenges to China's sovereignty would not be tolerated.
Ms Lam's speech to lawmakers was more accommodating and represented her most substantive attempt to differentiate herself from Mr Leung, whose five-year term was marred by legislative gridlock and increasingly radical protest movements.
Her challenge will be wooing his critics without running afoul of China's Liaison Office, which democrats have accused of meddling in local affairs.
"At a time when some citizens are feeling anxious and confused, my top priority is to unite the society," Ms Lam said. "Therefore, connecting all parts of society extensively would be an important job for me and my executive team."
She is seeking an early victory in the legislature, where the pro- democracy opposition blocked many of Mr Leung's most ambitious proposals, including a China-backed overhaul of the electoral process. She started by proposing a HK$5 billion (S$890 million) education fund, which includes converting contract teachers to full-time positions and paying annual subsidies of HK$30,000 for students who are funding their own undergraduate education.
The proposal appeared to enjoy across-the-board support. Chairman of the opposition Democratic Party Wu Chi Wai said the move showed Ms Lam's willingness to engage stakeholders and "could improve the administrative-legislative relationship".
The test for Ms Lam will come should she attempt to push through proposals that touch on more controversial issues, such the national security legislation sought by the Chinese authorities. She will also have to deal with rising tensions as the courts proceed with cases that could result in the ouster of as many as 10 pro-democracy lawmakers.
Leader of the opposition Civic Party Alvin Yeung said he was withholding judgment on Ms Lam for now. "I'll adopt a wait-and-see attitude," he said. "It is now premature to make judgments without seeing any concrete policies being put forward."