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Carrie Lam's promise of new blood falls flat with unveiling of her Cabinet

Hong Kong's chief executive-elect Carrie Lam (centre) flanked by members of her Cabinet on Wednesday. She will be sworn in on July 1, the 20th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China.

Hong Kong

THE final Cabinet lineup assembled by Hong Kong's next leader Carrie Lam, unveiled on Wednesday, lacks the new faces and young blood that she had promised to bring into her incoming government during her campaign and upon her election victory.

The presence of mostly familiar faces could mean a rocky start for the new administration, which takes office on July 1 with the goal of pursuing her vision of a "new style of governance" and rebuilding the leadership's credibility with a population that has become politically divided and skeptical of Beijing's influence, say analysts.

Political analyst Linda Li told TheBusiness Times: "When Carrie was elected, she pledged she would like to bring in more new faces, younger faces, more women… That was her wishlist… of cultivating the impression of bringing in new ideas. On that basis, she has not been able to deliver."

The new administration will largely comprise a mix of incumbents and civil servants, with an average age of 59 and only one woman on board - the new Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan.

Six ministers from the previous administration will keep their portfolios, including the top three secretaries for administration, finance and justice - Matthew Cheung, Paul Chan and Rimsky Yuen respectively.

Four other principal officials will keep their existing posts: head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Simon Peh, Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo, Director of Audit David Sun and Director of Immigration Erick Tsang.

Mrs Lam promoted four deputy ministers to heads of their own bureaus, and four veteran civil servants to the rank of minister.

The only government outsider to make it to the lineup is former Democratic Party member and social-policy scholar Law Chi-kwong, who will become Secretary for Labour and Welfare; he is only the second pan-Democrat to join the administration since Hong Kong's 1997 return to China.

Political scientist Chung Kim-wah said the lack of diversity makes Mrs Lam's message of wanting to rejuvenate Hong Kong's leadership less convincing.

"I don't think this Cabinet will gain a lot of confidence from the people in the beginning. They would have to work very hard to perform well to build credibility," he said.

Political analyst Lau Siu-kai, the former top adviser to the city's first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, was more positive. He told BT that even if the Cabinet was not what Mrs Lam initially wanted, it could still be considered "a working team", given the difficulty in finding people to join government.

"But if she wants to conduct reforms - reforms that are very much needed in Hong Kong - she has to work together very intensively with all the political forces in Hong Kong; otherwise (her administration) may not have enough political capability," he said.

Local media, citing sources with knowledge of the ministerial selection process, had reported that Mrs Lam had struggled to make her picks for Cabinet - given the constraints of a testy political climate and laws requiring Beijing's approval of principal officials - leaving her with her current lineup.

Professor Li said: "Some people may have been reluctant to join, and that narrowed her choices. The other possibility is that there is still the lack of trust of the (Chinese) central government among some of the candidates."

In a press conference on Wednesday to unveil her new administration, Mrs Lam dismissed questions of Beijing's intervention in her ministerial choices, but said she "will not disclose the process of forming the team".

"All the appointees today were nominated by me. They have the trust of the central government. They form my ideal team," she said.

Calling her new government "a practical team" with "rich administrative experience", she said there was still room to appoint younger, newer faces in other positions, including as undersecretaries, political assistants, and in government boards and committees.

"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 and support the idea that the government should play a more active role, while officials on the fiscal side have no disagreement with my new philosophy of public finance management."