Carrie Lam: Hong Kong leader announces shock retirement amid devastating Covid outbreak

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has announced that she won’t be seeking a second term, ending her controversial, five-year legacy that was marked by the financial hub becoming more isolated due to Beijing’s crackdown on civil freedom and the Covid-19 crisis .

“It’s time for me to go home,” the 64-year-old, whose five-year term ends this June, told reports on Monday. “There’s only one consideration and that is family. I have told everyone before that family is my first priority in terms of my consideration. They think it’s time for me to go home.”

Ms Lam was heavily criticized by Hong Kongers and pro-Beijing lawmakers for her handling of the city’s devastating fifth wave of Covid, the biggest and deadliest yet, which led to a massive strain on health facilities and morgues.

Ms Lam, who was handpicked by Beijing in 2017, came under fire after she proposed an extradition law and later enacted a controversial national security law to tighten control over the former British colony and clamp down on dissent. Her tenure of her saw some of the worst anti-government protests in 2019 and even faced US and UK sanctions.

Referring to these mass protests and criticism over coronavirus on Monday, Ms Lam said she faced “nonstop interference of foreign forces” during her term as Hong Kong leader.

“I have faced and unprecedented enormous pressure,” she said.

“We have described Hong Kong in these few years as experiencing unprecedented severe challenges, the grimmest situation since the handover,” Ms Lam added.

Her announcement has put an end to speculations that she may seek a second term. She said she had informed the central government in Beijing last year of her decision on her, and added that it was met with “respect and understanding”.

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Former Hong Kong chief secretary John Lee, who was the city’s head of security during the protests, is tipped to succeed Ms Lam.

She was only the fourth chief executive of the city since Hong Kong’s handover to China by Britain, and the first woman to hold the position.

Ms Lam proposed a bill in 2019 that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, provoking a backlash from millions of Hong Kongers who marched on the streets against the bill and led to turmoil in the business capital for months. The demonstrations led to a crackdown on student protesters and several were jailed and later tried under a more stringent law.

Ms Lam withdrew the extradition proposal but the protest had ballooned to a large-scale campaign to outspokenly criticize Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.

In 2020, Ms Lam enacted Beijing’s new national security law that criminalized almost all forms of political protest and dissent. It was accused by the UK and US of stifling media freedom, freedom of expression and reducing the city’s autonomy.

The law was used to jail most of the pro-democracy opposition and led to the shutting down of pro-democracy newspaper appledaily, which was deemed as “dark day for press freedom in Hong Kong”.

“Compared to this term of government, the next government will be seeing a more stable political environment,” Ms Lam said on Monday. “We have implemented the national security legislation, and we have improved the electoral system.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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