Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has given one of the strongest signals yet that he is keen on seeking a second term, but he won’t announce his decision until after the Legislative Council elections in September.
Leung has been tight-lipped about his political plans, as his low popularity ratings and the dissension in the pro-establishment camp appear to be preventing top leaders in Beijing from endorsing him for next year’s chief executive election.
He told reporters before the weekly Executive Council meeting that he had not yet decided whether to seek a second term as Hong Kong’s leader, saying he was currently focused on government work.
However, in an interview with the South China Morning Post, Leung gave an indication as to when he might announce his decision.
“Five years ago, back in June 2011, I had not made up my mind. So now in June 2016, I have not made up my mind. There’s still plenty of time,” Leung told the newspaper.
Political observers note that his remarks indicate that he is awaiting the results of the Legco elections to gauge the public sentiment towards the administration.
If the pro-establishment camp is handed a thrashing, that would be an unmistakable thumbs-down to his administration, and, as such, he might be forced to abandon his plans for a second term.
According to the latest poll conducted by the Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, Leung’s rating slightly increased by 0.2 mark from early June to 38.4, but is still below the warning line of 45.
His latest approval rate is 19 percent while his disapproval rate stands at 61 percent, giving him net popularity rating of negative 42 percent.
With such a rating, the top leaders of Beijing might find it hard to give their blessings to Leung, especially at a time when they are calling for social harmony in the special administrative region as negative sentiment has prevailed in the territory since he came into office in 2012.
Since he became chief executive, Leung has projected the image that his loyalty belongs to Beijing, even at the expense of Hong Kong people.
He has been keen on carrying out Beijing’s policies in the territory, and has used “political struggle” to sideline his enemies.
People now harbor a nagging fear that under his leadership, Hong Kong will lose all its unique qualities and be transformed into an ordinary Chinese city that is no different from its mainland counterparts.
The saga of the five Hong Kong booksellers, who disappeared last year and later found to be under detention in the mainland, has completely ruined the people’s trust in the “one country, two systems” principle that is supposed to govern China’s relationship with the city after the 1997 handover.
According to the same POP-HKU survey, the SAR government’s relations with the central government has dropped to its lowest level since the poll began in July 1997, as Lam Wing-kee, one of the five booksellers, divulged details of his arrest and detention in the mainland, showing that Beijing bypassed standard and legal procedures to neutralize a small Hong Kong bookstore that published books Beijing didn’t like.
In the same survey, the government scored negative net satisfaction ratings for maintaining economic prosperity, improving people’s livelihood, protecting human rights and freedom as well as the pace of democratic development. The rates ranged from negative 6 to negative 33.
With such a score card, how can Leung convince Beijing to give him five more years to rule the SAR?
Leung maintained that he did make positive results in his administration, although people may not be talking about them.
But people believe that he has not made any substantial accomplishments in driving economic growth and protecting their rights and freedoms.
Now Leung has linked his political future with the outcome of Legco elections.
He has also become less combative, trying to be friendly with the pan-democrats and promising to take up the case of the booksellers with Beijing.
Some people may applaud Leung for his efforts, but many believe that he is just after Beijing’s endorsement.
Analysts believe that Beijing has set a goal for the pro-establishment camp to win 40 seats in the Legco election, down from the current 43 seats.
If true, that would show that even Beijing is no longer confident of expanding its support in Hong Kong after Leung has been at the helm for four years.
The target is no doubt the final chance for Leung to show his capability as Hong Kong leader, or at least as head of the oro-Beijing camp.
If the pro-establishment camp fails to meet the target, then Leung’s career as Hong Kong leader is set to last for only five years.
In the coming months, Hong Kong people will see a new Leung – kinder, gentler and more accommodating.
But we will know that that’s not his real face. We know him only too well.
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