Asia-Pacific News

Hong Kong's first female leader is aiming for a 'new style of governance'

It's time to flip the calendar for Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's first female chief executive.

The new leader of the Chinese special administrative region told CNBC that her first month in office has been "substantial," but she managed to accomplish quite a bit of what she'd wanted to do. One of those goals was attempting to show her citizens a "new style of governance."

Hong Kong's Carrie Lam.
Anthony Kwan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

While many in the public deemed her "CY 2.0" during the recent election — predicting a continuation of predecessor CY Leung's toughness — Lam has taken a different approach to opposition lawmakers than her former boss.

A recent Hong Kong court decision disqualified four elected pro-democracy legislators, bringing another wave of uncertainty to the political circle. The government and the opposition lawmakers are at the edge of a standstill after the mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 called the Umbrella Movement.

"I'm not ready and I'm not geared up to fight. I just want to work with legislative council members from across the political spectrum to get things done," Lam said.

She admitted, however, that the court case, started by the previous administration, is further upsetting the fragile political relationship. "It certainly complicated things a bit," she said, as she is attempting to compile her first policy address this summer for an early announcement in October.

According to a recent poll by the Public Opinion Program at the University of Hong Kong, Lam started off her first month with a 61.1 popularity rating, lining up third behind the first and second chief executives but above CY Leung.

This is despite her taking over controversial issues from Leung government, aside from disqualifying opposition legislators, others include the high-speed rail connecting Hong Kong and Mainland China, the boiling discussion of legislating the national security law Article 23 and strong calls from democracy advocates for universal suffrage.


In just a few days after assuming office, Lam tabled a 5 billion Hong Kong dollar education funding plan, encouraged senior officials to frequently visit local communities and took her first overseas trip as city's new leader to Singapore and Thailand.

But among her top priorities, Lam said she is aiming to keep a campaign promise by addressing the city's housing issues.

"Housing is one of my big, top priorities in this term of government," she said.

Known for its sky-high housing prices, Hong Kong's home purchase affordability ratio stood at 63 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, which compares to the long-term average of 46 percent from 1996 to 2015, according to the government.

"I think it's not just a matter of building more houses, more flats. We need to have the right policies," she said. "I want people to be able to own their flats."

Lam pointed to Hong Kong's slowly progressing home ownership rate, which jumped only 4 percent in two decades — from 46 percent to 50 percent. That's far from reaching the overdue 10-year target of 70 percent set by the first chief executive Tung Chee-Hwa in 1997.

She is also targeting the young local professionals and young families struggling to afford a reasonable place. Lam said she planned to create a new form of subsidized housing called "starter homes" for first-time home buyers with a more generous income and asset threshold than the current system. Meanwhile, not to leave out tenants, she also addressed plans to make more flats available for leasing in the "very tight" rental market — with a pending timetable.

While housing will remain a focus, there are many other issues for the new government to address. With one month down, and 59 more to go, Lam has a long to-do list for her coming 5 years in office.