For signs of trouble in the pro-Beijing camp, look no farther than the controversial departure of long-time Beijing loyalist Tsang Tak-sing.
Leung Chun-ying dispatched Tsang on a note of thanks and with high praise for his long public service but kept much of Hong Kong guessing what exactly was going on.
It turns out that the veteran home affairs chief wasn’t retired, although he later said he was happy to retire, but sacked.
The reason this episode is controversial is that Leung’s own political allies are furiously reacting to it.
They were likely blindsided.
Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang wrote a scathing newspaper op-ed critical of the decision, laced with a good measure of disdain for Leung’s “arrogant and imperious” leadership, a day after his younger brother’s dismissal.
“A person of high caliber is not necessarily likeable… but someone with distinguished career achievements may offend and upset others who work for him, if he is arrogant and imperious or recalcitrant and egotistic,” the elder Tsang wrote.
“If someone like this becomes a leader of a team… it’s impossible for the team to have high morale and to show initiative.”
Jasper Tsang, 68, is seen as a potential Leung rival in the 2017 chief executive election, but on Thursday, he shot down that prospect, saying he would stand “if I were 10 years younger”.
Somewhere in all of this is festering animosity within the pro-establishment camp over the election reform fiasco in June.
Leung, whose main job is to create the conditions for Beijing’s agenda in Hong Kong, is said to have used the debacle to embarrass Tsang and seize the momentum to launch his own offensive.
It’s only now that we’re seeing the extent of the infighting.
Tsang, whose party holds the most seats in Legco, told an interview on Thursday that he sees himself as a kingmaker in the 2017 election, using his new think tank to influence policy for the next Hong Kong leader.
It was the strongest indication yet Tsang isn’t keen on a Leung reelection.
Now comes Elsie Leung, the pro-Beijing former justice secretary who says she hasn’t heard anything in Beijing approaching an official endorsement for a Leung Chun-ying nomination.
From his holiday retreat, lawmaker James Tien weighed in with a series of sarcastic Facebook posts critical of the chief executive, in particular questioning his ability to lead.
And Salina Chow, Tien’s Liberal Party stablemate, accused Leung of “shifting responsibility to others”.
The internecine war did not come by chance.
It began when Leung failed to bring about social harmony after a bruising election campaign in 2012 against early favorite Henry Tang, then chief secretary.
Leung narrowly secured the win after Beijing withdrew its blessing from Tang over a scandal concerning his personal affairs and accusations he had built an illegal basement in his home.
The result of Leung’s last-minute victory, secured with the nod of slightly more than half of an election panel, was a split in his own support base.
One faction (Leung and his hardline allies) embraces Beijing’s leftist ideology, the other (Tsang and a group of liberals) espouses Hong Kong’s core values but accepts Beijing rule.
The central authorities have played one side against the other, with Leung Chun-ying as their administrator and Tsang’s Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong their political proxy.
The sacking of the younger Tsang and his replacement by a mediocre but trusted ally is an attempt by Leung to consolidate his forces, hoping to present a stronger government to his direct boss, Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, who oversees Hong Kong affairs.
Meanwhile, supporters from the business sector who backed Leung in 2012 are beside themselves with buyer’s remorse.
So are others who bought into his promise.
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