With scarcely over a year left in office, Leung Chun-ying is a man in a hurry.
The window is closing on his livelihood agenda after a dramatic pivot from last year’s disastrous attempt at political reform.
And there’s very little time to salvage his public image, yet we could be seeing more of him come 2017 when he is widely expected to seek reelection.
The question on most people’s minds is whether that is going to be good or bad for Hong Kong — will it unite us or divide us even more?
Leung’s plunging approval rating is no longer a matter of debate.
The Public Opinion Program (POP) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) describes Leung’s performance as “depressing” after he received a 66 percent disapproval rating in its January 4-6 survey, the worst among principal officials.
His approval rating is just 22 percent, which gives him a net rating of negative 44 percent, down 11 percentage points from the previous survey and continuing a run of record-low numbers.
These suggest that the longer he is in office, the worse it gets for us.
The latest hit to his rating came from the disappearance of book publisher Lee Bo, apparently kidnapped by Chinese security agents, which deepened public mistrust of Leung’s ability to uphold “one country, two systems”.
Wednesday’s Policy Address, the second to last for this administration, gives Leung a chance to win back some public support.
The focus on livelihood is no coincidence. After failing to impress Beijing with the defeat of its election reform proposal last year, Leung is trying to show leadership on social and economic issues.
Leung announced a three-year free pre-school education, a development plan for the technology industry and a more focused approach to sports by appointing its own minister, among other measures.
But these sweeteners don’t go far enough. Hong Kong people want more.
They want effective governance, more transparent policymaking and a real effort to restore social harmony and cohesion.
Leung is not the kind of leader who can do those things — in fact, no one is, under the present political system that makes the chief executive answerable only to Beijing.
Which is why Leung can ride his dismal performance record into the sunset without a care in the world.
His franchise comes not from Hong Kong people but from the political elite in Beijing represented by a handful of handpicked loyalists on a small election committee.
Leung’s attitude has been a mix of indifference and confrontation, exacerbating social conflict and division.
On Monday, he criticised what he called the “abuse” of judicial reviews, saying these hinder his policies, after Hong Kong’s highest judge, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma of the Court of Final Appeal, said the process serves the public interest.
Leung and his bosses in Beijing see judicial reviews as a challenge to the executive-led government structure.
Obviously, Leung is playing the part of someone whose “constitutional status” has been defined by Beijing as transcending all branches of government.
He did not need to invoke it to influence events at HKU last year because as university chancellor, he wields enormous power.
The rejection of Prof. Johannes Chan for a vacant pro vice chancellor position after a concerted effort by establishment forces to discredit him and the subsequent appointment of Arthur Li to the chairmanship of the governing council, bore the hallmarks of a kingmaker and power broker behind the scenes.
Such arrangement has upended the status quo in our tertiary institutions by introducing what amounts to a political loyalty test. This is coming at the expense of academic freedom.
The good thing is that these are all behind us now.
Hong Kong people want no more of Leung’s governing style. They’re tired of it.
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