The Hong Kong government appears to have been left semi-paralyzed after several controversial projects were pushed back because of massive rallies that revealed widespread public anger at its plans.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has not appeared in public since her public apology at a press conference last Tuesday. Her push to amend the extradition bill stirred millions of Hongkongers to turn out for two dramatic protests.
Lam cancelled meetings with her cabinet for a second straight week on Tuesday without responding to demands from protesters for her to resign and withdraw the extradition bill, plus drop charges of “rioting” against people arrested during the protests.
One Executive Councilor, Lam Ching-choi, tried to play down the cancellations, saying there was nothing big pressing on the agenda recently.
Lam and her top officials have been accused of hiding from the public as more bills, scheduled events and meetings were ditched or suspended amid the public outcry.
On Tuesday, secretary for development Michael Wong Wai-lun confirmed that the Land Sharing Pilot Scheme – a proposal for the government to partner with developers and build on 1,000 hectares of vacant farmland in the New Territories – may face a delay.
Wong said the government had put the scheme on hold until the social atmosphere improves enough for it to be introduced.
Lam announced the Land Sharing Pilot Scheme in her policy address last year. It was initially due to be launched this month or next.
Another controversial matter that has been pushed back is funding for a feasibility study for the Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan.
Earlier on Tuesday, Chan Kin-por, chairman of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee, said it would not discuss a funding request relating to the Lantau plan before the council’s summer break in July.
Last week, the government put the HK$550 million (US$70.4 million) request for a feasibility study on building artificial islands off Lantau at the bottom of the agenda for the current legislative year.
The government also decided not to resume the second reading of the national anthem bill, which was originally due to be discussed at the LegCo on July 10.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Affairs Commission announced that a public forum on proposed guidelines for November’s District Council election was cancelled, just hours before it was due to start on Tuesday. The decision came after online calls for people to attend and voice their concerns.
Pro-democracy lawmakers blasted the government, saying officials are running away instead of coming out to face the public and address their demands. This has reinforced the public’s perception that the government has become a lame-duck.
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu criticized the government as highly irresponsible and showing signs of cowardice.
Claudia Mo, the convenor of the pro-democracy camp, said the government’s “paralysis” was self-induced. She urged Lam and her team to respond to the protesters’ demands immediately.
Bid to ease public tension
Unnamed sources from the government were quoted as saying that calming society was a matter of the utmost importance – that was why it was seeking to avoid escalating public tension any further. That’s was why Lam was not appearing in public, newspaper am730 reported.
In recent surveys conducted by local universities, Lam received the lowest rating ever and also ranked as the worst performing chief executive since the handover in 1997.
A government source said they would continue to operate and focus on economic and social issues over the next three years.
They also believed that the earliest Lam would reappear in public will be at celebration events, like the flag-raising ceremony for the anniversary of the establishment of the HKSAR.