24 October 2016
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sees his bosses in Beijing and allies in Hong Kong distancing themselves from him. Photo: Bloomberg
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sees his bosses in Beijing and allies in Hong Kong distancing themselves from him. Photo: Bloomberg

Will it be anyone but CY Leung for the next HK chief executive?

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying must be feeling a lot of stress these days.

His bosses in Beijing and allies in Hong Kong appear to be distancing themselves from him, which he could interpret as signals about his chances of winning a second term in the chief executive election in March next year.

The latest bombshell was dropped by Starry Lee, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s flagship pro-Beijing political party, who announced her resignation as a member of Executive Council, Leung’s cabinet.

He appointed Ip Kwok-him, a veteran DAB politician, to replace Lee with immediate effect.

Lee may have her own reasons from quitting the cabinet. It’s understandable, for example, that as DAB head, she would not want to bind the party to the administration’s controversial policies.

But her resignation has raised speculation that she may be preparing to throw her hat into the ring, although it could be a little bit too early for her to do so.

When asked whether she was resigning to prepare to run in next year’s election, Lee shook her head and said: “I think you’re thinking too much”.

Lee expressed the hope that everyone in Hong Kong, including the chief executive, would show some wisdom to solve problems and find a way out of the current deadlock on the various issues confronting Hong Kong.

Lee may not yet have any concrete plans to run for the highest office next year. But her response, including her entreaty for the chief executive “to find a way out of the current deadlock”, somehow betrays her discontent over how CY Leung is running things in the city.

That’s also a signal that the DAB will not always stand behind the chief executive – at least until Beijing anoints its candidate for next year’s election.

DAB can’t break its ties with the chief executive due to pressure from Beijing, and that is most likely the reason why the party sent Ip to replace Lee in Leung’s cabinet.

Previous speculations said Ip, who is a member of the Legislative Council for the District Council (First) functional constituency, will have to retire from Legco because he did not run during last year’s district council election.

Ip’s appointment to the Executive Council may not have any significant impact on the DAB.

In fact, DAB is facing pressure from its supporters. The party has refused to clarify whether or not it would support Leung for a second term. Hong Kong people know that the DAB is just waiting for Beijing’s order.

However, Beijing won’t tell them its decision until the nominating period starts later this year.

DAB’s Holden Chow lost in the Legco by-election last month mainly because of his reserved remarks when asked about Leung’s run for a second term.

His weak performance in several debates during the election campaign gave people the impression that his party is no more than a blind and deaf loyalist that is incapable of making its own decisions.

That helped in swaying a lot of people, who are otherwise politically neutral, to swing to the pro-democracy camp.

Against such a backdrop, DAB members recently told media that the party could nominate its own candidate for the chief executive election.

That’s a solution tailored for the Legco election as the pan-democratic camp will most likely raise the issue during the campaign.

If that happens, DAB candidates can simply say that their party respond will support its own nominated candidate so they won’t appear so helpless in the face of such a controversial topic.

In fact, the DAB, as the city’s biggest pro-Beijing party, has the responsibility to join the chief executive election.

Leung’s personality and hostile approach to governing Hong Kong have been a setback for both the pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp.

His aggressive way of pushing controversial government policies, as well as his tendency to blow out of proportion the issues concerning the pro-democracy camp (e.g., describing as “riots” the Mong Kok protests in early February), showed his wrong perception of the public sentiment.

Leung’s poor performance reflected on his low approval rating of under 40 percent, according to the latest poll conducted by University of Hong Kong, and prompted the so-called silent majority to distance themselves from the pro-Beijing camp.

The results of last month’s Legco by-election, which showed localist candidate Edward Leung securing more than 15 percent of the votes, should put pressure on Beijing and its loyalists to change their ways.

Top leaders in Beijing should understand the real public sentiment in Hong Kong, rather than just listen to Leung and his allies.

The Communist Party’s main focus now is to prevent Leung’s poor performance from affecting the coming Legco elections.

That could be the reason why top leaders like Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress head Zhang Dejiang softened their tone on the “protest” in Mong Kok, and expressed their sympathy to the issues faced by Hong Kong youngsters, rather than just labeling them as “rioters”.

Beijing’s softer tone indicates that the central government doesn’t recognize Leung’s stance on the Mong Kok incident, which could be seen as the first sign of the top leaders’ lack of confidence in Leung.

So it’s no surprise that the DAB is holding its endorsement of Leung for a second term. It is getting its cue from Beijing.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party and pan-democrats are exploring the possibility of jointly nominating a candidate to run for the city’s top office. If that happens, that will be a formidable force, combining the business sector and the opposition.

It seems Leung’s days as chief executive are numbered.

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EJ Insight writer

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