Mahathir Mohamad reportedly said Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor should quit as chief executive of Hong Kong.
The Malaysian prime minister is half right. Lam has not been in the business of governing for almost four months. By that standard, she should have left long ago.
The problem is, who would replace her without making things even worse? Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung! Under local law, he would automatically step in as the interim head of the city, just like Donald Tsang Yam-kuen did when Tung Chee-hwa quit in 2005. Tsang was at least more competent than Tung. No one would say the same about Cheung with respect to Lam.
Mahathir said Lam was caught in a dilemma, having to serve both Beijing and the Hong Kong people. Well, that's why it's an impossible job. But her current predicament is mostly of her own doing.
A competent leader in her shoes may have upset one of two opposing camps, but at least placated the other camp. In the event, she has lost the confidence, if not yet the support, of the pro-government bloc. But that's only because they are under orders from Beijing to back her still.
No one believes in her any more, especially those who might want a return to normality and stability.
Her action, or rather inaction, throughout the summer has been mostly counterproductive.
Lam caved in to some of the demands of the protest movement and the opposition pan-democrats, but late enough to have made no difference or even worsen the unrest.
She could have pursued the "law and order" route, as many Asian leaders have done before her, by taking a hard line against protesters, whose unrest shows no sign of calming down.
That, at least, would have won her back confidence from the pro-Beijing camp after wrong-footing them by withdrawing the controversial extradition bill without consulting them.
She has failed the one crucial test of leadership: she has shown to be incapable of restoring order. Her stalling in withdrawing the bill helped fuel the protests.
Her delays in invoking the emergency law to ban protesters from wearing masks did not help police do their job and only further inflamed the violent protesters.
She has disqualified herself many times over. The sad thing is, she is still the most qualified for the job.
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