Hong Kong's beleaguered leader will focus on a mounting housing and land shortage rather than dwell on politics in her third policy address on Wednesday as she pitched the occasion as a fresh start to restore confidence to a city battered by more than four months of protests.
But government sources immediately cautioned against having high expectations the policy blueprint - akin to a state of the union address - could hold landmark moves while lawmakers and commentators called on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to offer bold measures to soothe the angry sentiments fuelling the demonstrations. On social media sites, such as LIHKG and Telegram, however, there was little discussion on protesters' plans for Wednesday even as police vowed to be on high alert.
More than 1,000 riot police along with two water cannons will be deployed to deal with possible unrest at the government headquarters and Legislative Council building in Admiralty. All residents must also go through a security check before they can enter the Legco building to watch Lam's address.
In keeping with Lam's decision to reveal some of her new initiatives ahead of the address, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said on Tuesday that she would announce a HK$2 billion subsidy for the city's old private housing estates to upgrade their parking facilities by enabling charging for electric vehicles.
Combined with measures already in place, a quarter of all parking spaces in Hong Kong should be compatible with electric vehicle charging in three years, he said.
Among other new measures, a source said the chief executive would propose allowing commuters to receive a bigger discount under the Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme. Currently, commuters whose monthly travel costs more than HK$400 receive subsidies of 25 per cent of the excess spent, capped at HK$300. The source said Lam would propose raising the 25 per cent limit to 30 per cent.
Before a weekly meeting of her cabinet, the Executive Council, on Tuesday, Lam said housing policies would be the focus of this year's speech, which she hoped would symbolise a new beginning for Hong Kong.
"The most important livelihood issue that the chief executive should address is housing and land supply," she said.
"I also chose blue, a colour that I like, (for the cover of the address). I hope the storm in Hong Kong can end soon and the sky can turn blue again, and that we can start anew."
Hong Kong has been roiled by protests that have become increasingly violent as opposition to the now-withdrawn extradition bill has morphed into a full-fledged anti-government movement seeking universal suffrage and an inquiry into police's use of force.
Taking questions from the media, Lam again ruled out making any concessions to the protesters in the face of escalating violence, saying it would "only make the situation worse". The chief executive revealed the policy address document would include a new progress report which would show that the government had delivered "97 per cent" of the initiatives announced in her previous two policy addresses. Lam also hoped that she could deliver the address in Legco.
Sources previously said that if the legislature was besieged, contingency plans were in place for Lam to deliver her policy address via a live feed or pre-recorded video.
Another source revealed that one of the key housing measures would be the announcement of a rent subsidy for low-income residents who had queued for public rental flats for more than three years.
"Lam will also touch on the anti-government protests … but she will not provide a road map for guiding Hong Kong from current political impasse," the source said.
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu warned that the lack of such a road map could prove catastrophic to Lam's crumbling popularity.
"This will be the best, or last opportunity for Lam to express her intention to resolve the city's political turmoil. Failing to do so would demonstrate that she is far from capable of governing Hong Kong," he said.
Ray Yep Kin-man, a professor in City University's department of public policy, also said people would not focus on whether she has delivered on past initiatives.
"She can win public support if she announces some 'big bang' housing policies, or the opening of more channels for the people to take part in the city's politics, but unfortunately we have not seen any sign of these," he said.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, of the Federation of Trade Unions, also hoped the chief executive's latest address could be more progressive than previous ones.
"It's difficult for her to turn the political situation around, but she should still try to satisfy people's expectation on livelihood issues," he added.
On security arrangements, a police insider said no officers would be deployed in the Legco building on Wednesday. Officers will only be sent "at the request of Legco security personnel", he added.
Six groups, or companies, of police - mainly from Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East regional response contingents - will be deployed on Wednesday.
Two of them, each consisting of about 180 officers, will be stationed around the city's administrative and legislative complex, in Admiralty, which includes the Chief Executive's Office, government headquarters and Legco.
The source said two water cannons would also be deployed on Wednesday. One of them will be stationed on Tim Wa Avenue outside the Chief Executive's Office and the other will be put on standby near Beijing's liaison office in Western District.
Additional reporting by Zoe Low
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