Hong Kong no. 2 official resigns with eye on becoming next city leader: Media

Hong Kong's Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam leaves after meeting with Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond at number 11 Downing Street in London
PHOTO: Reuters

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's number two official nicknamed "the fighter" resigned on Thursday, the government said, in a move widely seen as a prelude to contesting a March election to become the financial hub's next chief executive and first female leader.

Carrie Lam, 59, has served as the financial hub's chief secretary since 2012 and is known for her no-nonsense approach to overseeing the civil service.

The next leader of the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 faces the delicate and Herculean task of reconciling longstanding tensions between China's Communist leaders and pro-democracy advocates agitating for universal suffrage.

The city was roiled by street occupations and violent clashes between pro-democracy activists and police in late 2014, while growing calls for independence and self-determination from a disaffected younger generation have alarmed China and stoked mistrust on both sides.

The bespectacled Lam, a career civil servant often appearing in elegant Chinese cheongsam dresses, is seen as one of the frontrunners in the race to lead the territory, which is governed under a "one country, two systems" principle, granting it a high degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.

Respected former Financial Secretary John Tsang, who resigned in mid-December, is also expected to run for the top post. He hasn't made a formal announcement.

Incumbent Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying, whom opinion polls have ranked as one of the most unpopular city leaders, surprised many in December when he said he wouldn't seek a second five-year term.

A committee of 1,200 people, most of them Beijing loyalists, will vet potential candidates before choosing the next leader for the city of 7.2 million people on March 26.

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.

Lam came second in a popularity poll of potential candidates running for the top job, trailing Tsang, according to a Chinese University survey of more than 1,000 people commissioned by the South China Morning Post and released on Thursday.

Lam's potential bid, however, may be complicated by a major public outcry over a planned museum to be built on a prime harbourfront site displaying imperial treasures loaned from Beijing's Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

While Lam won plaudits for spearheading a potentially world-class institution at the heart of a new district aimed at transforming Hong Kong into a regional arts hub, the deal with Chinese officials behind closed doors was criticised for lacking any public consultation, including her appointment of a prominent architect.

She was also the flag-bearer for a contentious Beijing-backed political reform package that was rejected by pro-democracy lawmakers and seen as a trigger for the months-long, sometimes violent "Umbrella Movement" street protests in late 2014.


More about
Carrie Lam