When she became Hong Kong’s first-ever female leader, she promised to protect the territory’s core values. She spoke of an independent judiciary of respect for human rights and vowed to listen to the city’s youth.
But something went wrong along the way. Three years later, concern over Hong Kong’s independence is reaching its peak. Anger over China’s increasing influence has sent hundreds of thousands into the city streets, and Carrie Lam is to be blamed for this.
Who is Carrie Lam?
A Roman Catholic who grew up in a working-class area of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam joined the civil services after graduating from an elite university.
In a career spanning over two decades, Lam has held 21 posts. With no lack of self-confidence, she has developed a reputation as a good fighter who could push through policies. In 2012, Lam became the second in command of Hong Kong.
As Chief Secretary, Lam faced her first challenge when China unveiled a controversial proposal for Hong Kong in 2014. China’s proposal would allow Hong Kong residents to vote to choose the leader, but only after Beijing shortlisted the candidates.
What was the Umbrella Movement?
Universal voting rights has always been a key issue for Hong Kong. The residents don’t get to vote for their leaders; rather, a 1,200 member election committee chooses Hong Kong’s chief.
On August 31, 2014, China proposed that all eligible voters would be able to vote for their leader but only after they are nominated by more than half of a 1,200-person Chinese nominating committee, something similar to the present policy.
In the months following Beijing’s announcement, tens of thousands of protesters went on the streets and shut down parts of the city. It was called the “Umbrella Movement.” Residents came out to join the protesters and demanded a real and direct nomination right.
It was called the “Umbrella Movements” because the protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray and tear gas used by the police to disperse them.
In the end, the protest movement fizzled out. Carrie Lam presented an election proposal with minor changes that were rejected by the Hong Kong legislature.
Becoming the chief executive
Carrie Lam caught Beijing’s attention, and in 2017 she was chosen to be the first-ever female Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Lam was not elected by ordinary Hong Kong residents, but by a pro-Beijing committee, a system she supported. She won only because she was Beijing’s favoured candidate.
In 2018, Lam banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party. This was the turning point in her story. Pro-democracy activists began to condemn her, calling her China’s puppet.
In February 2019, Lam introduced an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for prosecution. It was seen as a full-frontal assault on the judicial system, and Hong Kong residents responded by flooding the streets with more protests.
The critic said the bill would expose Hong Kong’s residents, businessmen and visitors, including political critics, to being sent to mainland China for trial in a communist party-controlled courts.
The controversy around the bill had seen Lam’s support sink to a record low. Within two years into her tenure, she had become the least popular leader than any of her predecessors were at the same point.
After weeks of protest, Lam withdrew the extradition bill and apologized for how she handled the situation. But for the protesters, Lam’s apology was too little, too late.
In December 2019 Carrie Lam faced an impeachment motion for mishandling the extradition bill and the protests. Beijing was not happy with the way she handled the entire situation and backed out due to public pressure.
After the pro-democracy protests in 2019, China has now decided to take matters to their own hands. It’s imposing the new national security law on Hong Kong. The law will make protests illegal and curb free speech.
Still, Carrie Lam calls her own people the enemies. She is speaking for China, not Hong Kong. She has put over 9,000 protesters in jail since last year.
Carrie Lam was a pro-democracy activist in her student days.