HONG KONG – Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s CEO, announced on Monday that she would not seek another term after a huge increase in coronavirus infections left the global financial center with one of the highest virus death rates in the world.
Mrs Lam announced her plans at a press conference, citing family reasons.
“My family is my priority and they think it’s time for me to go home again. That is my only consideration,” Mrs Lam said, adding that she had already informed Beijing of her decision.
Ms. Lam has been criticized by Hong Kong residents and pro-Beijing lawmakers for mixed messages amid the city’s fifth outbreak, its biggest and most devastating since the start of the pandemic. Officials faltered over city-wide mass tests, indicating at one point that the city might need to shut down residents, a view that triggered anxiety and panic buying.
When cases rose in February, Beijing stepped in and sent health workers, epidemiologists and technicians for testing. Hong Kong’s inability to bring matters under control led to warnings from China’s senior leaders, including Xi Jinping. It also caused an exodus of the city’s posted community.
Ms. Lam became CEO in July 2017 after promising her loyalty to Beijing and promising to promote a stronger sense of Chinese identity among young Hong Kong residents. But her five-year tenure was first marked by a deeper polarization of Hong Kong society, with broad demands among young people for more democracy and economic opportunities, and later by dissatisfaction with the way her government handled a coronavirus outbreak that ravaged the city’s world. class hospital system and further isolated Hong Kong from other countries.
A strong-willed CEO, Mrs Lam had previously been targeted major street protests in 2019. Protesters demanded her resignation because of an extradition law that was met with strong opposition and protests that lasted months.
Ms Lam on Monday referred to these protests, as well as coronavirus and “non-stop intervention by foreign forces” during her time as leader of Hong Kong.
“I have been exposed to unprecedented and enormous pressure,” she said.
Following the protests in 2019, Beijing introduced a comprehensive new national security law to quell the opposition in Hong Kong. It also drastically changed the electoral rules, giving pro-Beijing lawmakers greater power to elect the city’s supreme leader and members of its legislature.
Hong Kong’s CEO is elected every five years in a vote closely controlled by Beijing and determined by a nomination committee of 1,500 officials backed by the Communist Party. The election was due to take place on March 27, but was postponed to May 8 amid Hong Kong’s Omicron rise.
Hong Kong’s last three top leaders, since the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, were forced to leave office before concluding two five-year terms.
Mrs Lam rose through the Hong Kong Civil Service, first under British rule and later under Beijing. She became known among her colleagues as a “good fighter”, Who defended political views and refused to withdraw from arguments. But over the past few months, while Hong Kong has been trying to follow China’s zero-Covid policy, Mrs Lam has been criticized for sending mixed signals.
Faced with growing criticism from the city’s business sector and expatriate communities, Ms Lam doubled measures for social distancing and efforts to get the city’s 7.4 million people tested for the virus. Amid criticism from Beijing and local lawmakers, she later withdrew from mass testing. So in late March, the city said the city would begin lifting a no-fly zone in nine countries and easing restrictions, after officials indicated the worst of the latest eruption was likely over.
Hong Kong has reported nearly 1.2 million Covid-19 cases and 8,172 deaths, most of them linked to the recent outbreak, and many of them among Hong Kong’s elderly and unvaccinated population. The city’s mortality from the virus was at one time among the highest in the world, at three out of 100,000 inhabitants, in large part because so many older Hong Kongers had not been vaccinated.
As for rumors that Hong Kong’s second official, John Lee, would be a favorite to replace her, Mrs said. Lam that she has not yet received a resignation from any government officials.
She also said she would focus on pandemic-related work until the end of her June 30 term. On Saturday, government officials released one announcement to exempt candidates for CEO from some prohibition of social distance during campaign. Currently, no more than two households are allowed to gather indoors.