18 October 2019
The way the cabinet reshuffle was done shows that Leung Chun-ying would go to any length to serve his political purposes. Photo: CNSA
The way the cabinet reshuffle was done shows that Leung Chun-ying would go to any length to serve his political purposes. Photo: CNSA

Why cabinet reshuffle has pushed CY Leung closer to dead end

The city was stunned by the news that two government bureau chiefs, Tsang Tak-sing and Paul Tang Kwok-wei, were sacked within the same day. Their replacement immediately sparked widespread speculation in society about Leung Chun-ying’s motives.

Last Tuesday afternoon, July 20th, Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, the government’s information co-ordinator, informed media there would be an important announcement on the appointment of key personnel.

Shortly afterwards he started spreading rumors that Tsang and Tang were relieved of their duties because of their incompetence.

Rumors had it that Tsang was fired because he did a bad job of promoting patriotic education and handling youth affairs, while Tang was sacked because he failed to maintain the political impartiality of civil servants during the Umbrella Movement.

The following day, most mainstream newspapers toed the government line in their coverage of the story, reporting that Tsang and Tang were sacked instead of them tendering their resignations of their own accord.

Interestingly, however, the two leading pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kong Pao, apparently didn’t buy into such smear tactics and only gave relatively little coverage to the dismissals.

In fact, the whole saga was orchestrated by Leung Chun-ying himself. To make matters worse, Leung kept his own counsel. Even the entire Executive Council and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could have been kept in the dark about his plan until the very last minute.

The fact that Leung once again violated standard procedures when it comes to government reshuffle and the appointment of key personnel indicates that he would go to any length to serve his political purposes whenever necessary and that he has no respect for due process and procedural justice whatsoever.

It has now become clear that what Leung Chun-ying was after during his recent trip to Beijing was not the enhancement of Hong Kong’s role as the “super co-ordinator” in the “One Belt One Road” strategy, nor the “high praise” from National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang, but rather, the permission from our paramount leaders to fire the two bureau chiefs that he didn’t like.

Readers might still remember that during the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference meetings back in March, Zhang, NPC chairman and leader of the Hong Kong and Macau liaison team, said the “patriotic force” in Hong Kong had to accomplish two hard missions with no promise.

One is to support the SAR government’s political reform package and the other is to win the upcoming District Council and Legislative Council elections.

Beijing’s initial plan was to mount an all-out political offensive against the pan-democrats after the defeat of the political reform proposal in Legco by blaming them for obstructing Hong Kong’s democratic progress so as to annihilate their political influence once and for all.

However, the unexpected blunder that led to the defeat of the proposal by a clear majority vote in Legco and the recent lead contamination scandal that has taken the city by storm have turned the tables on the pro-establishment camp, which is now being forced to play defense.

Knowing that he could milk the current weak position of the pro-establishment camp for all it was worth, CY Leung quickly seized the opportunity and got Beijing’s green light for his cabinet reshuffle.

Top leaders in Beijing had no choice but to grant Leung what he wanted because they know they can by no means replace Leung at this stage out of concerns over the stability of Hong Kong.

In order to keep his job and increase his chance of getting re-elected, Leung went to great lengths to remove whatever and whoever stood in his way, including sacrificing the traditional leftist camp and ruining the long-established rules and procedures of our civil service system.

It is likely that such reckless and audacious moves by Leung could have turned a lot of heads in the government and upset many of the high-ranking AOs in the administration, who form the backbone of our civil service, and might set off another massive wave of resignations by senior civil servants who are eligible for early retirement at the age of 55, thereby exacerbating the deterioration of the governance of Leung’s administration.

In fact, the small-scale “coup” perpetrated by Leung last week is bound to have grave and far-reaching repercussions for our society, and the damage he has done is irreversible.

It would be nothing but wishful thinking if Leung and his ignorant supporters thought he could regain popularity and win a second-term simply by sacking two bureau secretaries and replacing them with two even more mediocre yes men.

By staging this “mini-coup”, Leung has not only antagonized the indigenous communist camp in Hong Kong, but also alienated our civil servants, making himself even more isolated.

Unless Leung is able to fix the problems he very much has created and put things in Hong Kong back to normal in his remaining years in office, his Beijing bosses will definitely hold him accountable, and by that time, his days will be numbered.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal