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23 Jun

Familiar faces to fill Hong Kong’s new Cabinet

By: Joyce Lim

Hong Kong’s incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who once described her search for ministers as a “nightmare”, recently unveiled a Cabinet packed with old faces.

All but one of her 21-member governing team are incumbents, undersecretaries, and veteran civil servants.

The top three heavyweights – Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, Financial Secretary Paul Chan, and Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen – will continue in their current posts after July 1, when Mrs. Lam and her team will be sworn in.

The only new face in the line-up is Dr. Law Chi Kwong, a founding member of the Democratic Party, who will head the labor bureau.

Dr. Law, an associate professor of social work at the University of Hong Kong, said he does not think the pan-democrats will expect him to represent them.

“But as an individual with my own values… I guess I will express whatever I represent in terms of my own knowledge and values to the new administration,” he said. The 63-year-old quit the party on Tuesday as it forbids its members from joining a government that is not elected in a free election.

Mrs. Lam, 60, was elected in March by a 1,194-seat Election Committee packed with Beijing loyalists. Mrs. Lam, who will be Hong Kong’s first female Chief Executive, said at a press conference yesterday it was her “practical” team – despite her election promises to inject new blood into the government.

Each member of my team is passionate, capable, committed and prepared to serve the people of Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and with utmost sincerity and stamina.

“Though some will say that my governing team consists of familiar faces, I wish to say that they all agree with my new style of governance,” she said.

Mrs. Lam, who spent 36 years in the civil service before resigning as chief secretary to run for the city’s top post, has promised a new style of governance that is heavy on public engagement.

She also stressed yesterday the need to be innovative in formulating new policies amid a fast-changing environment.

“Each member of my team is passionate, capable, committed and prepared to serve the people of Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and with utmost sincerity and stamina,” she said, referring to Hong Kong’s mini-Constitution that promises the city wide-ranging autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula.

However, Mrs. Lam also gave vague answers on how she would handle mounting pressure from the central government to introduce a national security law and compulsory national education classes in Hong Kong schools.

She said she had nominated all 21 members of her team and her nominations were “supported by Beijing”, sidestepping questions over whether Beijing had turned down her first picks.

During her victory speech on March 26, Mrs. Lam vowed to introduce new blood in her team and attract more women to politics.

Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan is the only female minister in the new Cabinet.

Political observers told The Straits Times it was no surprise her team comprises mostly old faces whom Beijing trusts.

Mrs. Lam had wanted to reach out to talent from across the political spectrum as she vowed to unite the highly split society. But analysts said Hong Kong’s current political climate has put off some potential candidates.

“Most people would have realized that Beijing will squeeze Hong Kong tight in enacting (security law) Article 23 and clamping down on (the) pro-independence movement, further constricting the high autonomy in Hong Kong,” political analyst Willy Lam told The Straits Times.

“Mrs. Lam’s administration has to toe the line of Beijing. I think eligible people might have second thoughts,” he added.

Dr. Lam said that with the top three positions filled by incumbents from outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying’s administration, there might still be a continuation of Mr. Leung’s unpopular policies after the “new team” assumes office on July 1.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline ‘Familiar faces to fill Hong Kong’s new Cabinet’.

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