Hong Kong deputy announces leadership bid

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (L), Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam arrive for a press conference in Hong Kong on November 7, 2016, following a ruling by Beijing on two elected pro-independence lawmakers from the city's legislature.
PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's tough pro-Beijing number two Carrie Lam announced her bid to lead the deeply divided city Thursday after stepping down from her current post.

Lam is deputy to Hong Kong's unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying and rose through the ranks as a career civil servant before taking public office.

The city has become sharply polarised under Leung, whose term has been marked by anti-Beijing protests. Opponents cast him as a puppet of the Chinese government squeezing the semi-autonomous city's freedoms.

While Lam is less hated than Leung, critics fear she will take a similar hard line if she wins the leadership at elections in March.

Lam, who has worked in government since 1980, would become the city's first woman chief executive.

She said Thursday she was stepping down as deputy leader in order to stand for the top job.

If her resignation is accepted by Beijing, she will run for chief executive she said.

"There is only one reason for me to resign at this juncture," Lam told reporters.

"I intend to prepare to contest in the upcoming chief executive election." She said it had been an "honour and a privilege" to have served the people of Hong Kong for more than 36 years.

Lam ended the brief press conference without taking questions, with one reporter shouting after her "Are you going down the path of CY?" referring to current leader Leung.

Political analysts said Lam was considered by the public to be a capable leader.

"The worry is that her ambition might prompt her to side exclusively with Beijing because that's where her power comes from," Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

The city leader is chosen by a 1,200-strong committee of representatives of special interest groups, weighted towards Beijing.

Mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 called for fully free leadership elections but failed to win concessions.

Hundreds of anti-China protesters rally in Hong Kong as vote looms

  • Hong Kong's Financial Secretary John Tsang has resigned from his post, pending an announcement that he will run for the city's top job next March, Cable TV news reported.
  • The resignation ends months of speculation on whether the 65-year-old, currently topping popularity polls, wants to run for Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
  • Affectionately known as "Uncle Pringles" for his signature moustache, the US-educated lover of fencing and martial arts has served as the former British colony's finance minister since July 2007.
  • Candidates running for Chief Executive have to be vetted by a 1,200-strong Election Committee, which will be formed in December.
  • Around a thousand protesters rallied in Hong Kong against a crackdown on pro-democracy lawmakers and an electoral system skewed towards Beijing ahead of elections for a new city leader.
  • It comes a day after unpopular chief executive Leung Chun-Ying said he would not run for office again in the March vote.
  • While jubilant at his announcement, Leung's critics fear another hardline Beijing-backed leader will take his place.
  • There are increasing fears that China is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city, particularly after two pro-independence lawmakers advocating a complete split from Beijing were barred from taking up their seats.
  • The city's youngest lawmaker Nathan Law, 23, who is one of the four the government are seeking to unseat, addressed the crowd saying: "We need to use our legs, our bodies, to tell the regime they can't oppress us.
  • Protest leaders also slammed the electoral system in which the chief executive is chosen by a committee of 1,200 representatives from various special interest groups weighted towards the pro-establishment camp.

Critics are already accusing Lam of trying to gain favour with Chinese authorities by pushing through a museum project which would bring historic cultural artifacts to Hong Kong from Beijing's Palace Museum.

They say the project is cultural brainwashing and accuse Lam of failing to consult the public on the plans.

Lam was also vilified by pro-democracy activists during the 2014 rallies for being a Beijing stooge.

The city's finance secretary John Tsang resigned in December and is expected to enter the race soon.

Nicknamed "Mr Pringles" by local media for his resemblance to the crisp brand's mascot, Tsang is seen as a more moderate alternative to Leung and Lam.

While Tsang and Lam are considered the strongest contenders, others have already thrown their hats in the ring.

Former Hong Kong security chief Regina Ip, who is loathed by the city's pro-democracy camp, declared her candidacy last month.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who has said he will prioritise political reform, has also declared he is running.

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