Will she or won’t she? That was the question uppermost in many minds on Wednesday after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor spent more than two hours mapping out her vision for Hong Kong.
Political pundits pored over her 168-paragraph speech and a 202-page supplement for hints on whether she would make a bid for a second term as chief executive.
Given the many policies she presented that had a long timeline for delivery, such as a plan to build a northern metropolis and restructure parts of the government, many were left with the impression she aimed to be in charge to execute them.
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Defending the extended horizon of the projects, Lam told the media after her address: “The way in which these topics are dealt with is because society demands so. This is unavoidable.”
Then to emphasise her point, she added: “It has nothing to do with whether I want to seek re-election or not.”
But Lam, known for her firm leadership style, appeared emotionally overwhelmed towards the end of her speech she delivered at the legislature.
“Four years ago, when I became chief executive, I felt the weight of the responsibility,” she said, before her voice started to break. She said she was grateful for the opportunity to serve Hong Kong and implement Beijing’s “one country, two systems” principle for the city.
“This is the greatest honour of my career serving the public. But this also poses the greatest challenge I have ever had in my life,” she said, fighting back tears.
The previous time Lam grew visibly emotional during a high-profile public event was last year when she gave a speech thanking Chinese officials at a reception party celebrating the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lam admitted she was under “unprecedented pressure” following the anti-government protests that erupted in 2019, social unrest that she blamed on the blatant interference of “foreign forces”. Just as the often violent demonstrations were dying down, the Covid-19 pandemic flared up, creating challenges governments the world over struggled to meet.
“There are three forces that keep me motivated. The everlasting blessing from Beijing to stand with Hong Kong as a shield, my original and never-changing intent to set Hong Kong on a safe sail and,” she said, briefly pausing before continuing, “the unlimited trust and unrelenting support of my family”.
A journalist later asked whether her husband Lam Siu-por, who was at the Legislative Council listening to her speech on Wednesday, had asked her not to seek another five-year term.
Lam, 64, declined to answer, just as she repeatedly refused to entertain any speculation about a re-election bid throughout the day.
“You can say that I am very responsible and I would not slack off even towards the end of my term,” she said, when reporters pressed her over the extended timeline of her policies.
Lam noted that just months before her tenure as development minister was ending in 2007, she floated the plan to transform Kowloon East, then a sleepy neighbourhood dotted with dormant factories, into a commercial hub. The area is now the city’s second-most prominent business hub.
She also pointed to her push for building the Hong Kong Palace Museum, the cousin to the celebrated one in the capital, not long before she stepped down as the chief secretary in 2017. The museum in West Kowloon Cultural District is scheduled to open in June.
“I love doing things non-stop. It matters not whether I have 10, eight or five days left. I will fight for Hong Kong,” she said.
Bernard Chan, convenor of Lam’s top advisory Executive Council, said Lam’s policy address supported the city’s further development as a financial, innovation and cultural hub.
But he denied Lam’s initiatives were intended to pave the way for her re-election next March.
“Any chief executive will have to deal with those issues,” he says.
But Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said Lam clearly wanted to seek a second term.
“She wants to tell the central government that she has the determination to take up difficult tasks,” he said.
Additional reporting by Gary Cheung