17 February 2020
Leung Chun-Ying is facing opposition even from some pro-establishment groups as Hong Kong prepares for the 2017 chief executive election. Photo: Bloomberg
Leung Chun-Ying is facing opposition even from some pro-establishment groups as Hong Kong prepares for the 2017 chief executive election. Photo: Bloomberg

Why’s the pro-Beijing camp split on second term for CY Leung?

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing groups seem to be in two minds on the issue of backing Leung Chun-Ying for a second term in office as the city’s chief executive.

Comments made by prominent figures on the sidelines of China’s “two sessions” in Beijing this month suggest that Leung’s governance approach has not found favor among some establishment loyalists, even as some others made the case for continuity in leadership.

It was quite interesting to see two leading political groups in the pro-Beijing camp — the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), and the Hong Kong Federation of the Trade Unions (FTU) — take a totally different stance on the city’s leadership race.

On Monday, FTU head Cheng Yiu-tong, who is seen by observers as being sympathetic toward Leung, said it would be better if DAB does not participate in the chief executive election next year.

If the DAB joins the race, it might give the impression that it is becoming too dominant, causing discomfort to other pro-government parties, he said.

This could make the pro-establishment camp even more divided and lead to a repeat of the split seen in the previous CE election in 2012 when two pro-government candidates – Leung and former chief secretary Henry Tang – faced each other, warned Cheng.

Cheng is a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council and also a deputy to China’s National People’s Congress.

His comments came after DAB lawmakers Leung Che-cheung and Chan Kam-lam said last week that their party must consider joining the CE election in 2017.

“It is natural and very reasonable for the party to consider taking part in the election,” a lawmaker said, arguing that putting up a candidate will help DAB’s growth.

It was suggested that LegCo president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and legislator Tam Yiu-Chung — both of whom are from DAB — would be suitable candidates to run for the city’s top job.

This prompted FTU’s Cheng to warn of further divisions in the pro-establishment camp.

Prior to the split between the DAB and FTU, the Liberal Party — a pro-business group – had voiced its opposition to the prospect of Leung running for a second term.

Given the increased social conflicts during Leung’s tenure, it would be inappropriate to give him another five years in office, a prominent Liberal Party leader said.

The differences in the establishment camp come as the name of Regina Ip, chief of New People’s Party, has also been bandied about as another potential candidate in the 2017 CE election.

Three out of four major pro-Beijing political parties have expressed reservations about a new term for Leung.

Beijing would do well to listen to their opinions before making its preference known.

The lack of clear support for Leung ahead of the 2017 election shows that the city’s incumbent leader has failed to unite his pro-Beijing allies despite being in office for almost four years now.

Pressure is being put on top leaders in Beijing not to support Leung for a second term.

Opponents argue that Leung has failed in his task of ensuring a harmonious society in Hong Kong, a key goal of Beijing as it seeks to extend its influence in the special administrative region.

According to some opinion polls, Leung has been the least popular among Hong Kong’s chief executives since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The pro-Beijing groups, which are forced to support Leung in all aspects, have also been affected by Leung’s poor performance, and could suffer loss of votes in upcoming elections.

The Mong Kok clashes last month, which saw protesters stage pitched battles with the police for several hours, have added to the urgency among some pro-Beijing groups to distance themselves from Leung.

Leung labeled the unrest as a “riot” and the police have arrested dozens of protesters. The whole incident has damaged Hong Kong’s image in the eyes of the world.

While the Mong Kok incident won’t change Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong, it appears that top leaders are taking a step back and re-examining Leung’s aggressive moves on young protesters.

The goal is to cool down social tensions and prevent disputes from escalating further.

While Beijing has remained tight-lipped on the candidates for the 2017 chief executive race, there are indications that it could be having second thoughts about Leung.

On Monday, Lau Siu-kai, a veteran Beijing loyalist and a former chief adviser to Hong Kong’s central policy unit, made some interesting comments.

“If the administration doesn’t give the public an impression of causing damage to Hong Kong’s core values, it will give less opportunity for the rise of localism,” Lau said. 

Lau did not name anyone, but it’s clear that he was having Leung and his team in mind.

Given Lau’s background and his links with Beijing officials, we can be justified in thinking that Leung’s performance has not come up to the mark in the eyes of China’s leaders.

Lau has also revealed that several agencies in China, including the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, have been gathering information from NPC delegates in a bid to assess the latest situation in Hong Kong.

Going by the recent chatter, it appears that Leung would need a lot of luck to get Beijing’s nod for another five years in office.

If there is any final test for Leung, it would be the Legislative Council polls in September.

Leung can only hope and pray that pro-establishment groups will acquit themselves well in the election.

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EJ Insight writer