Top job contender Carrie Lam has said she was “very sorry” for a misunderstanding caused by her recent comment on Beijing’s preferred candidate for the chief executive position.

On Friday, Lam commented at a closed-door gathering of top media management that she joined the race out of concern about the worst case scenario – a constitutional crisis if Beijing does not appoint the winning candidate.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, another contender, said Lam’s closed-door statement was “extremely unsportsmanlike.” He accused her of attacking opponents with “arrows in the back.” He demanded that Lam explain who she was referring to, otherwise it will hurt the public’s confidence in the race and harm the central government’s image.

Carrie Lam. File Photo: GovHK.

Lam’s other rivals include former financial secretary John Tsang and lawmaker Regina Ip. Tsang was politically appointed by Beijing to the post of financial secretary, whilst Ip has a very good relationship with Beijing.

Alan Leong, a former Civic Party lawmaker and a member of the chief executive election committee, said Lam’s comment “clearly targets John Tsang.” Tsang was leading Lam in popularity polls. Leong claimed Lam’s comment “absolutely does not represent the central government.”

Pro-Beijing media have been carrying very positive reports about Lam since her announcement that she would join the race, suggesting she may be Beijing’s preferred candidate.

Speaking about the incident on Sunday, Lam said: “I spoke some words that caused misunderstanding at that gathering – I am very sorry.”

‘Mindset of an official’

She said the discussion was informal and that she was answering “out of habit,” as she was in charge of promoting the government’s stance on political reform for 20 months.

“Even though I have left my position, I still have the mindset of an official, or I am even still in political reform mode,” she said.

“[The chief executive] shall be selected by election and be appointed by the Central People’s Government. Just that. I did not intend to criticise or comment on the candidates in this race, including myself.”

Lam said she hoped society could give her time to adapt, since it was the first week in 36 years that she was not working for the government.

Regina Ip said in response: “If Mrs Lam truly resigned from her official position to run in order to avoid a constitutional crisis, I respect her spirit of service.”

James To. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

But Democratic Party lawmaker James To, also the convener of the pro-democracy camp, continued to press Lam on Monday demanding further explanation of her comment, saying that it was “a total absurdity” that anyone would believe Lam’s explanation, reported RTHK.

“There must be a motive in order to tell the media boss – if it is her analysis, of course, what is the basis of that information?”

“The public will demand Mrs. Carrie Lam to disclose the source of the information,” he said. “We must treat it seriously because it’s from a long-serving senior government servant, and a serious contender for the race.”

Meanwhile, Lam said on Sunday she was concerned that the election committee members who will nominate her in an open vote will not vote for her in the secret ballot process that comes after.

She said it was important for a candidate to have popular support and not just support from the 1,194-member election committee, otherwise there would be difficulties in governance.

But she also said that if a candidate only appeals to young people or elderly people, they would not have a wide enough base of popular support.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.