Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Monday that she will step down in June, after a period marked by massive pro-democracy protests and the city’s isolation from the rest of the world to protect itself from COVID-19.
Lam, backed by Beijing five years ago, said she would not seek a second term in May when a select committee appoints the city’s next leader.
“I will complete my five-year term as CEO on June 30 and officially end my 42-year career in government,” Lam told reporters.
The 64-year-old leader stressed that Beijing’s leaders, whom she warned about her intentions in March 2021, “understood and respected” her choice, which she justified on “family considerations”.
“I have to put my family members first, and they feel it’s time to go home,” she said.
After working as a government employee, Ms. Lam became the first woman to lead Hong Kong in 2017.
For Kenneth Chan, a professor of political science at Baptist University, Hong Kong’s leaders still suffer from a “chronic crisis of legitimacy” because they were not elected by the citizens, but by a committee of 1,500 people all hand drawn to Beijing.
But Ms. Lam has lost support from all political parties, “not only among pro-democracy citizens, but also increasingly in the pro-Beijing camp, because she has done a terrible job during the pandemic,” Mr Chan explained to AFP.
Predictions about the identity of the next leader of the territory, the third largest financial center in the world, are uncertain.
The new CEO will be chosen on May 8, but at the moment, no realistic candidate has emerged.
The local press has described Hong Kong’s number two, John Lee, a former security service, as a potential candidate.
Another potential claimant: Finance Minister Paul Chan.
approved by Washington
The next leader is scheduled to take office on July 1, the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China.
The outgoing leader thanked Beijing for its support, noting that her tenure was marked by “unprecedented pressure” with the 2019 protests and the COVID-19 pandemic.
His record divides the city.
Her supporters consider her an inflexible loyalist to Beijing and she has known how to keep the right track during crises.
“Let history judge its merits,” said Stary Lee, who leads the largest pro-Beijing party, DAB.
On the contrary, many, including Western countries, see it as the one who oversaw the collapse of political freedoms in Hong Kong.
After massive and sometimes violent protests in 2019, the Chinese central government launched a massive crackdown in the city.
Carrie Lam is the first female leader in Hong Kong to be sanctioned by the United States for her support of the crackdown, which has led to the imprisonment or exile of pro-democracy activists.
His government has also followed China’s “zero-Covid” model, implementing some of the world’s toughest anti-coronavirus measures.
If border closures and strict quarantine rules prevented any local epidemic for 18 months, the Omicron variant has led to a record fatality rate, with nearly 8,000 deaths since the start of the year.
In the past two years, Hong Kong residents have left the territory at a rate not seen since the 1990s.
Thousands of foreign residents also left, particularly in the first quarter of 2022, with the arrival of the Omicron variant and a more stringent city shutdown.
Lam is expected to leave her post with the least popularity of a chief executive, according to a poll by the Hong Kong Institute for Public Opinion Research.
The Hong Kong Stock Exchange rose 1.4% after its announcement.
According to Ms. Lamm, the life of her successor will be easier. “Compared to this term, the next government will enjoy a more stable political environment,” she told reporters.
While a return of the protest movement is unlikely, Ms. Lam’s successor will have to restore international business confidence and tackle persistent problems in Hong Kong such as housing shortages.