Former chief secretary Carrie Lam has been elected as chief executive, becoming the first female leader of Hong Kong.

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777 voters from a 1,194-member election committee chose Lam over rivals Woo Kwok-hing and John Tsang. Tsang received 365 votes, Woo gained 21 votes.

carrie lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: Carrie Lam.

Low popularity

Lam, 59, was the city’s no.2 official before joining the leadership race. She suffered low popularity ratings throughout her campaign, with critics calling her a copy of incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying and warning that she would adopt Leung’s “combative” approach in governance.

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See also: Hong Kong leadership election vote counts – Carrie Lam: 777, John Tsang: 365, Woo Kwok-hing: 21

She was widely considered to be Beijing’s preferred candidate. Local media ran rumours that the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong – and some senior Chinese officials had been rallying support for Lam.

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Lam supporters celebrate in the election venue public area. Photo: Lukas Messmer.

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution prohibits interference by Chinese government departments in the city’s internal affairs. The rumours that Chinese government organs campaigned for Lam led to public outrage before the election.

In response, Lam said she could not tell the Liaison Office to stop asking electors to vote for her.

China Liaison Office
The China Liaison Office. Photo: Wikicommons.

Publicity blunders

Lam’s electoral campaign was also tainted by public relations blunders.

In January, she received international media attention after disclosing that she took a taxi at midnight from her new luxury serviced apartment back to her old government house, because she did not know where to fetch toilet paper rolls.

Less than a week later, she became a target of ridicule again for giving HK$500 to a beggar who said she was brought to Hong Kong from mainland China against her will. Begging is also illegal in Hong Kong.

Lam later said she is not good at image-building because she is a candid character and all she thinks about is  “work and helping others.”

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Carrie Lam’s campaign event. Photo: Carrie Lam.

Last week, civil groups slammed Lam for “lacking integrity” after she cancelled a meeting with them a day before the appointment. Her team said she needed to rest and the meeting was held in a “far away” town in Tin Shui Wai – which is located about 50 minutes away by car from Lam’s apartment or office. She eventually visited the groups a week later following criticism.

This week, her team came under fire after telling accountancy sector electors that the chief executive-elect office would arrange a meeting with them after the election. Her media aide also apologised to reporters following complaints over poor communication.

Critics have challenged her campaign slogan “We Connect,” saying that her performance reflected a lack of will to “connect” with the general public.

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Carrie Lam’s campaign banner. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Controversial official

Lam joined the government in 1980. Prior to her appointment as chief secretary in 2012, she served in various senior positions such as Director of Social Welfare; Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands; Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London; Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs; and Secretary for Development.

During her tenure, she was heavily criticised for failing to serve the interests of the underprivileged during her office as director of social welfare, and for allegedly committing misconduct in public office in the controversy surrounding the Hong Kong Palace Museum project.

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Lam supporters celebrate in the election venue public area. Photo: Lukas Messmer.

When Lam announced her run in the leadership race in January, she pledged to “reignite Hong Kong’s can-do spirit.

Incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying will officially step down on June 30.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.