21 September 2019
Leung walks past his giant 2012 election logo. We could see this scene play out again in two years. Photo: HKEJ
Leung walks past his giant 2012 election logo. We could see this scene play out again in two years. Photo: HKEJ

Did CY just gun for 2017 with these policy leaks?

Leung Chun-ying came back from an embarrassing political defeat by changing the conversation just days after a Beijing-backed election reform proposal flamed out in June.

He set aside politics in favor of livelihood and challenged the Legislative Council to work with him on his revived agenda.

But since announcing the relaunch of a controversial technology and innovation bureau in July after it was derailed by a filibuster, Leung has gone into political mode again.

In recent months, he has presided over a much maligned cabinet reshuffle, meddled in academic affairs and been tainted by a water contamination scandal.

This week, he has been embroiled in new controversy over his “superior” constitutional status which he dismissed as a non-issue but probably privately embraced.      

But on Wednesday, Leung pivoted back to his livelihood agenda.

First, he let it be known that he plans to prohibit offsetting of severance and long-service payment with employers’ accrued contributions to the Mandatory Provident Fund.

Second, he hinted at giving blue-collar workers an extra five days of leave to narrow the gap with their white-collar counterparts who enjoy 17 days.

These are not going to happen tomorrow but they are likely to figure prominently in his policy address in 2016.

The timing is irrelevant but the intent is not.

Both of these initiatives are not an urgent government business but leaking them more than six months ahead of time makes for an interesting election talking point.

Did we just see Leung launch a campaign to stay in office another five years from 2017?

My guess is as good as yours.

No doubt Leung is targeting the grassroots with a double whammy, with his administration needing a boost to stay relevant and useful to Beijing. 

He wants to be seen doing for their economic well-being what he could not do for their democratic development.

The payoff from such an approach to an electorate grown weary with too much politics is hard to miss.

By declaring his cards, albeit unofficially, he is trying to put other players on notice.

No politician will risk losing the biggest chunk of vote by opposing his plans the way pan-democrats shot down his technology blueprint.  

The immediate beneficiaries of any pick-up in public sentiment toward the establishment are pro-government candidates in the coming district and Legco elections.   

Obviously, Leung is not worried about how all this might be taken by the business elite.

He has figured out a way to appease them with a piecemeal strategy.

The latest example is the government’s questionable decision to award New World Development redevelopment rights to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront without a public tender.

It remains to be seen whether the ongoing flap over the “overriding” power of the Hong Kong chief executive is helpful.

He was thrust into the controversy when Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, suggested last weekend that Leung has authority over all three branches of government including the judiciary.      

That forced him to play the card he was dealt and he played it poorly.

In fact, he might have been better off waiting until the dust had settled before weighing in with a muddled reading of the Basic Law.

Zhang could have been expressing his own views or testing the waters amid infighting in the Communist Party between the ruling elite and hardliners who want the screws further tightened on Hong Kong.

Reports say Zhang might be called back to Beijing anytime soon.

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EJ Insight writer