Carrie Lam denies Hong Kong government restructuring plans tied to possible re-election bid

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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has defended her plans to restructure the government despite having less than a year left in her term, insisting it has nothing to do with wanting to secure her political future.

Lam told the press ahead of her Executive Council meeting on Tuesday that the absence of opposition filibustering meant now was the time for the legislature and executive branches to jointly look at a possible revamp of policy bureaus.

“We want to pave the way [for the next chief executive]. This is not related to whether I will seek re-election,” she said.

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The chief executive had hinted on Sunday that she intended to set up two new bureaus to handle cultural development and housing.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hints at new bureaus on land, cultural issues

Elaborating on that plan, Lam on Tuesday said her administration would formulate a detailed proposal for the next government to consider.

“Considering restructuring is inevitable … But it is always difficult for the chief executive-elect to consider all these matters in just three months [between winning the election and taking office],” she said.

Lam added that Beijing’s positioning of Hong Kong in the country’s latest five-year plan, including a call for the development of a more vibrant local arts and cultural scene, made the restructuring necessary.

Beijing has also repeatedly urged the local government to solve the city’s long-standing housing problems. “If the new term government does not like the proposal, they can come up with their own later,” she said.

Macau on Sunday saw a record-low turnout in its legislative polls. Photo: AP
Macau on Sunday saw a record-low turnout in its legislative polls. Photo: AP

A person familiar with the matter said Lam was pushing the proposals hard because she knew promoting Hong Kong as a cultural hub was becoming part of national policy and something that needed to be “kick-started early”.

Meanwhile, an error in the backdrop behind Lam during the session created some embarrassment after it was noticed that incorrect Chinese characters had been used to spell the country’s name.

The large backdrops, which typically feature the theme of each week’s press briefing, referenced Hong Kong’s participation in the coming National Games, something Lam briefly addressed with reporters.

But the traditional Chinese characters used to spell out The People’s Republic of China – which are not a word-for-word translation from the English name – incorrectly used the character Chung Kwok, which means “China”, rather than the correct Chung Wah, meaning “Chinese”.

In a response to the Post, a spokesman for the Chief Executive’s Office apologised deeply for the mistake and said measures would be taken to prevent a similar error from happening again.

‘Foreign forces’ have long undermined Hongkongers’ patriotism: Lam

Separately at Tuesday’s media session, Lam said it was premature to judge who would be candidates in the coming Legislative Council elections in December, or the potential turnout.

Neighbouring Macau’s legislative polls on Sunday saw a record-low voter turnout after a ban on multiple opposition candidates, with numerous invalid votes cast and residents registering their discontent on the ballots.

“It’s premature to talk about the situation, because we do not know who will run. It is too early to comment on the elections,” Lam told reporters.

Macau’s poll, which came after the unprecedented disqualification of 21 opposition figures, has sparked predictions it could offer a preview of Hong Kong’s own legislative elections later this year.

“I think the so-called similarity between the Macau and Hong Kong elections lies in the legal requirements,” she added. “We have the same electoral arrangement to ensure that only patriots will administer Hong Kong. But it doesn’t mean that we have the same political make-up in Hong Kong as in Macau.”

She added that the right to vote and the right to stand for election were enshrined in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and that residents should exercise their right to vote on election day.

Additional reporting by Natalie Wong

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