HONG KONG - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday (April 4) said officially that she will not be running for a second term, paving the way for the city's No. 2, Chief Secretary John Lee, to make his bid for the post.
Mrs Lam, 64, made the announcement at the start of her daily Covid-19 briefing.
"I will complete my five-year term as chief executive on June 30 this year and I will also call an end to my 42 years of public service," she said.
Mrs Lam said her intention to not seek another term was made to the central authorities early last year.
"The only consideration behind my decision is my family. As I've always said, my family takes precedence over everything and they all think that it's time for me to return to family and this is my sole consideration."
The outgoing chief executive added that she has not decided what she will do after her term wraps up.
Over the weekend, local media said Mr Lee, 64, looks highly likely to run for the top job, with former chief executive Leung Chun Ying to become the chief convener of the influential 1,500-strong Election Committee that picks the city's next leader.
As chief convener, Mr Leung will hold committee meetings when necessary and can call a meeting when there are election-related issues that cannot be resolved by law, doing away with the need to get the National People's Congress Standing Committee to weigh in.
Local media reports have said Financial Secretary Paul Chan is another potential candidate but Sing Tao Daily, citing sources, has said Mr Lee is "extremely likely" to run.
On the reports, Mrs Lam said she has not received any resignation from any official so far.
Asked about attributes of the next chief executive, she said: "The most important attribute is to play his or her role properly, shouldering the dual responsibilities. He has to be accountable to Hong Kong and, at the same time, to the central government.
"He or she should be guarding the special characteristics of Hong Kong, that is, Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong, high degree of autonomy and so on."
The news comes as nomination for chief executive election, to be held on May 8, began on April 3 to last till April 14.
Mrs Lam's announcement ends the buzz that has heated up in recent weeks as the city speculates as to who will take the top job.
She joined the civil service in 1980 and was in 2012 the chief secretary under Mr Leung's administration.
In March 2017, she secured 777 votes from the 1,200-member Election Committee to win the race against former finance chief John Tsang and retired judge Woo Kwok Hing.
Dr Lau Siu Kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, believes Mrs Lam's exit will allow Beijing the opportunity to form a stronger governance team that can deal with the more dangerous and turbulent geopolitical situation in the future, as well as the arduous policy reform work in Hong Kong.
Previously, local media reports had said that Mrs Lam, who was originally viewed as a first pick, dimmed her chances of re-election with her handling of the pandemic.
But Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy thinks Mrs Lam's handling of the pandemic has little to do with Beijing's preference for the next Hong Kong leader.
He believes Mrs Lam's exit reflects Beijing's "heightened focus on regime stability in China".
This would be reflected if Mr Lee, who has been Chief Secretary for Administration since June 2021, runs for the top job.
Mr Lee joined the Hong Kong Police Force in 1977 as a probationary inspector and rose through the ranks to become deputy commissioner in September 2010.
In September 2012, he was appointed Under Secretary for Security and moved up to be Secretary for Security from July 2017 to June 2021. He oversaw coordination of the six disciplined services departments and two auxiliary forces under the bureau when the 2019 unrest broke out.