24 October 2016
Maria Tam (L) has suggested that a second term for CY Leung (inset) could help in policy consistency, but James Tien (R) says it's time for change. Photos: HKEJ
Maria Tam (L) has suggested that a second term for CY Leung (inset) could help in policy consistency, but James Tien (R) says it's time for change. Photos: HKEJ

Why 10-year terms for CEs is a bad idea

Hong Kong will have another “small-circle election” next year for the city’s top job as Leung Chun-Ying’s current five-year term will expire on June 30, 2017.

Beijing is yet to reveal its mind on its preferred choice for the next chief executive, but that hasn’t stopped several pro-establishment figures from suggesting that Leung be given five more years.

Longer tenure will ensure that the leader can complete his tasks and maintain policy continuity, Leung’s supporters say.

Meanwhile, some people are arguing that it will be better if Hong Kong permanently alters the chief executive’s term of office to 10 years, from the current arrangement of elections every five years. 

The debate about chief executive (CE) tenure gained fresh traction following comments made by Maria Tam, a Beijing loyalist and a member of the Basic Law Committee, this week.

Speaking to reporters, Tam called for CE’s term of office to be doubled to 10 years, saying that longer tenure is necessary to give the leader enough time to fulfill policy objectives.

Her argument goes like this: Every five years, a new CE and a new team come up with a new set of policies. However, the new team faces constraints as it has to complete the unfinished tasks of the previous administration.

To avoid problems and improve policy implementation, it will be good if the CE’s term is extended to 10 years, said Tam, who is a Hong Kong deputy to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC).

Changing the personnel, teams and policies every five years may not be good for Hong Kong, she said.

Tam’s remarks, which were made in Beijing ahead of the NPC session, drew criticism from political groups and prominent public figures in Hong Kong.

Liberal Party, a pro-business political party, was among those that hit back at Tam.

James Tien, the party’s honorary chairman, said: “The five-year term has been set by the central government. Are you saying that Beijing is wrong?”

Tien also reiterated his criticism of Leung, saying the CE is to be blamed for the current political deadlock in Hong Kong.

The city needs someone who can help “bring harmony to society”, and not Leung, Tien said.

He repeated his view that Financial Secretary John Tsang could be a good choice for the top job as democrats would be willing to work with him.

Liberal Party chairman Felix Chung also voiced concern at the suggestion that Leung be given another five years.

“Why should we have to wait for five years? If someone fails to do the job, he should be replaced by someone else.”

The response of Liberal Party indicates that the business sector would like to have a new leader next year.

Leung’s term has seen a significant rise in the number of Chinese state-owned enterprises making inroads into the Hong Kong market, adding to the challenges faced by local enterprises.

Political observers have interpreted Tam’s comments as a show of approval for a second term for Leung, though Tam herself has refused to state clearly if she would support a Leung re-election bid.

Under the “one country two systems”, Hong Kong’s CE must serve as a bridge between Beijing leaders and Hong Kong people.

The person needs to have outstanding political skills to strike the right balance in protecting the interests of the central government as well as Hong Kong.

But in the 18 years since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997, it is fair to say that none of the chief executives have done their job well.

Tung Chee-hwa, the first CE, had in 2003 pushed for national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law. The move prompted half a million people to take to the streets in protest.

The government withdrew the bill and Tung stepped down two years later.

Tung was only trying to follow Beijing’s order, but he learnt a valuable lesson that Hong Kong people will stand up and fight if they feel the city’s core values and freedoms come under threat. 

Under Leung’s rule in the past four years, Hong Kong has witnessed massive change in the political as well as economic environment.

Leung’s rigid stance and controversial tactics in dealing with various issues have led to increased social conflicts and alienated different groups, making Hong Kong a less harmonious place.

The trust that Hong Kong people have in their government and Chinese authorities has declined significantly, as locals feel that Leung is keen to do Beijing’s bidding rather than protect Hong Kong’s interests.

Leung is accused of helping Beijing spread its tentacles into various sectors, boosting the influence of “red power” in Hong Kong.

According to the latest survey conducted by Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, Leung’s overall popularity remains at a very low level.

His support rating is 39.8, still below the warning line of 45. The approval rate stands at 23 percent, and the disapproval rate at 61 percent, giving a net popularity of negative 38 percentage points.

The survey showed that the younger and the more educated the respondents, the more critical were they of Leung’s performance as chief executive.

Given the huge discontent in society, offering a fresh term to Leung or a permanent tinkering of the CE tenure won’t be taken kindly by Hong Kong people.

Tam may have floated a trial balloon on 10-year terms for CEs, but the idea will have few backers given Hongkongers’ troubled experience with their leaders. 

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter