Leung faces test of Beijing leaders, then voters

It's time for reflection, reporting. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pays duty visit to Beijing.It's time for reflection, reporting. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pays duty visit to Beijing.

By Chris Yeung –

On the eve of the annual duty visit of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to Beijing on Monday, the Civic Party has announced their plan to put the question of Leung’s fate to electors for a vote in a Legislative Council by-election scheduled for February.

Announcing their plan to send Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu to contest the New Territories East geographical constituency seat left vacated by ex-member Ronny Tong Ka-wah, the party said on Sunday they would call for the downfall of Leung in their election manifesto.

With more than one million voters eligible to vote in the NT East constituency, the Legco by-election looks set to be turned into a de facto referendum on the leadership of Leung since he took power on July 1, 2012.

Judging from the results of previous elections in the NT East, Yeung stands a good chance of winning the seat – and the call for Leung’s downfall. Moreover, the likelihood of the pro-establishment camp picking a strong candidate to run against Yeung at all cost seems to be low, at least for now.

This is partly because the pro-government camp does not seem to have a strong candidate readily available to lead the battle even if they want to. This is also because they may be worried about the unpredictable consequences of turning the by-election into a territory-wide political battle if they take it seriously in their choice of candidate and election campaign.

But regardless of their strategy, the pan-democratic camp will seize the opportunity of the by-election to turn it into a vote of no-confidence against Leung.

The vote will come at an intriguing time when Leung is wrapping up his first term and making early preparation for an expected bid for his second term.

Leung is scheduled to deliver his annual policy speech, his fourth, next month. It will be an important blueprint because the next 12 months will be a critical period for him to deliver as many concrete results as he possible can. By the time he is due to deliver his swansong address in January 2017, there is practically little he can do in the remaining six months of his current term.

Polls give thumbs down to Leung

His policy speech next month, however, will coincide with the by-election. Like it or not, Leung’s next policy blueprint will be judged in the context of his overall governance in the past three and a half years. If opinion polls are a good indicator of the mood of the people, Leung has failed on important fronts.

Relations between the mainland and Hong Kong have grown tense. Public trust in Beijing leadership has fallen. Their confidence in the “one country, two systems” policy has dented. Political rupture in the society has widened. The feeling of social, political injustice remains prevalent across different segment of the populace. If anything, the Occupy Central protests last year have unearthed the sea of grievances and feeling of jitters among the young people about the city’s present and future.

Public trust and confidence in Leung and his team have slipped to a dangerous level since he took office. Leung’s credibility deficit has been made worse by a host of bungling in policies including a city-wide test, known as Territory-wide System Assessment, and governance fiasco such as cost overrun-cum-delay of the high-speed rail link.

Government unpopularity and loss of public trust have doubled their difficulty in pushing through sensitive policies such as the copyright amendment bill and lobbying public support for co-location of the cross-border high-speed rail link.

Thanks to the city’s fat wallet, Leung could dig into the reserves to fund a slew of cash subsidies to the elderly and low-income families. But on the policy front, he has not yet been able to come up with long-term policies to tackle the problems of an ageing society.

On the economic front, cynics can be excused for having difficulty to name any shining success stories of Leung. Leung will no double underline the setting up of the Innovation and Technology Bureau as a milestone in the city’s future development. But doubters have good reason to feel sceptical about the city’s potential in the fast-changing IT sector.

Speaking earlier at a session with young people, Leung has reportedly claimed success in putting an end to the notion of “government-business collusion”, which was widely held among people during the administration of Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

Leung did not elaborate. But it is widely understood that he was referring to his spate of housing policies that are deemed as unfavourable to property tycoons. It is fair to say certain property giants are unhappy with Leung. But the jury of his housing policy is still out. Housing problem still stays on top of people’s concerns in opinion polls.

With his first term entering its last 18 months, Leung is desperate seeking Beijing’s stamp of approval of his work and blessing for another term. But the developments of the city in social, economic and political arena are apparently not in his favour. Against that background, his meetings with Beijing leaders in the next few days will be closely watched and vigorously decoded in the city.

Chris Yeung is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photo: VOHK Picture


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