Hong Kong’s pro-business politicians recently welcomed the idea of replacing Chief Executive Carrie Lam, believing that it would help calm the chaos plaguing the city.
Beijing’s possible plan to replace Lam – as reported by the Financial Times on Wednesday – is a good idea and should be executed as soon as possible, James Tien Pei-chun, former chairman of the Liberal Party, said on an online radio program.
Hong Kong would suffer from more violent protests if the city had to wait for Lam to step down in March, he said, adding that he had previously been told by some sources that Lam’s resignation would happen by the end of this year.
He said chief executive candidates had to understand that it would be difficult to lead Hong Kong if they were not allowed to launch an independent commission of inquiry and restart the process of political reform.
Tien’s comments came after the Financial Times reported on Wednesday that the Chinese government was drafting a plan to replace Lam with an “interim” chief executive by March 2020. Chinese President Xi Jinping has to make a decision on this, according to the report, which cited unnamed people briefed on the deliberations.
The report said the two possible candidates included Norman Chan Tak-lam, a former chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Tang Ying-nien, a former chief secretary and current standing member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Two other possible candidates – Paul Chan, the financial secretary, and Bernard Chan, the convener of the Exco – were said to be too close to Lam’s discredited administration, the report added.
Michael Tien Puk-sun, a district councilor in Tsuen Wan and a legislative council member of the Roundtable, said some middlemen from Beijing told him that originally Lam would be replaced only after the social unrest ended, but her latest efforts to begin dialogues with different communities and launch an anti-mask law have failed to contain the unrest.
He was quoted as saying in an HK01.com report that social unrest in Hong Kong was continuing due to Lam’s ineffective measures and low popularity. He said the next chief executive would be elected by July 1, 2020, if Lam agrees to step down in February or March.
Felix Chung Kwok-pan, the leader of the Liberal Party, said he had been calling for the government to replace incompetent officials and Executive Council members for four months. Chung said there was no need to wait until the unrest ended.
Over the past week, Lam faced heavy criticism from the pro-establishment camp internally.
On October 18, Rocky Tuan, vice-chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who was previously seen as a pro-establishment elite, issued a statement calling for Lam to investigate alleged police brutality – 20 of the university’s students, he alleges, suffered unreasonable treatment after being arrested.
Lam said on October 19 that she supported the police force but was not blindly supportive. She said she would not tolerate illegal violence by anyone, including the police. She added that if the first-phase report published by the Independent Police Complaints Council indicates there was wrongdoing, the government may consider other methods, such as an independent commission of inquiry, to address the matter.
Lau Siu-kai, the vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, warned that Lam’s speech could hurt the morale of the police, who had already done their best to try to end the social unrest. Chris Wat Wing-yin, a pro-Beijing columnist, wrote in an article that the Hong Kong police had blindly supported the government, but Lam only wanted to protect herself.
Lau Kong-wah, secretary for home affairs of the Hong Kong government, said in a radio program on Sunday that Lam had previously had a four-hour dialogue with a dozen people, including some protesters and a few so-called “brave fighters.”
Government officials seldom use the term “brave fighters,” calling violent protesters “rioters” instead. It was believed that the closed-door meeting was held right after a two-hour live-broadcast dialogue between Lam and 150 randomly chosen citizens on September 26.
Lau has become popular in mainland China after pointing a shotgun at protesters who attacked him on July 30. He was among the 10 police officers who attended the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on October 1.
On Tuesday, 24 pro-democracy lawmakers sent a letter to Joshua Law Chi-kong, secretary for the civil service, to complain that Lau might have violated the Police General Orders and Civil Service Code, which requires civil servants to remain politically neutral.
Ellick Tsang Choi-on , a former police chief superintendent, wrote in his blog that Lam, Stephen Lo and deputy commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung should accept responsibility for failing to end the chaos in Hong Kong as they did not take strong measures to crack down on rioters. Tsang said the central government must sack them and grant more power to the police to suppress riots.
Tsang also disclosed that Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, met Lam in Shenzhen on October 1 and ordered her to invoke the anti-mask law. Tsang alleges that Lam failed to successfully execute the order.