Leung Chun-ying has announced that he won’t run for a second term, but that doesn’t mean he’s become a lame duck.
Now that the burden of seeking re-election has been taken off his shoulders, the outgoing chief executive appears bent on pushing controversial policies that he felt he could not pursue quite easily or aggressively during the early part of his term.
These include the revival of patriotic education, as well as the use of the Mandatory Provident Fund contributions to offset long-service and severance payments.
Indeed, he can still do a lot of things – a lot of harm, if you ask his critics – during his remaining six months in office. Or probably even beyond that.
In the course of his last duty visit to Beijing, which started on Tuesday, Leung was heaped with commendations by top state leaders.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised him as a “young and talented leader”, the sort of tribute that one reserves for someone who will continue to remain in his position for quite sometime and not to an outgoing official.
Wang lauded Leung’s accomplishments, which he said redounded to the benefit of Hong Kong and the nation as a whole.
“Despite complicated external and internal situations, Leung has continued to adhere to the One Country, Two Systems principle,” the foreign minister said. “The central government is grateful for his contributions.”
Leung is expected to meet with more state leaders later this week. What they will say could give an indication on what they are planning for Leung after July 1.
Though he has announced he would step down, Leung is seen working double time to push several controversial policies.
One is an arrangement to use MPF contributions to offset severance or long-service payments to workers.
It will be recalled that when he was campaigning for chief executive in 2011, he suggested that such an offsetting arrangement be phased out in a bid to secure the labor sector’s support.
However, the proposal did not appeal to the business sector as it would mean bigger costs to employers.
On Tuesday, sources told media that the government is about to announce an end to the scheme that allows employers to use a portion of their contributions to the MPF to cover severance or long-service payments to workers.
Instead, the government will help employers bear part of the additional costs, and will reduce the amount that employers have to pay.
Currently, it is two-thirds of a worker’s monthly salary multiplied by the employees’ number of years of service.
But since the business sector is against the proposal, Leung may not be able to implement it during his term.
Another politically sensitive issue that Leung raised recently is the introduction of Basic Law education in secondary schools.
A newspaper reported on Wednesday that schools will be required to set aside 15 hours for study of the Basic Law in the first three years of secondary education.
Schools can decide how to allocate the 15 hours – either to spread it out over three years or squeeze it into a shorter period.
There will be allowances for schools already incorporating the Basic Law in their lessons as part of the 15-hour requirement in the new curriculum guide.
The Basic Law study can be seen as attempt by the Leung administration to re-introduce the much-reviled national education curriculum, which triggered mass protests just months after Leung assumed office in 2012.
The curriculum was shelved in October of that year following 10 days of protests at the Central Government Offices. About 120,000 protesters took to the streets at the height of the mass actions.
Parents opposing to the proposed curriculum called it a form of brainwashing their children, and cited the teaching materials which appear to focus on the accomplishments of the Communist Party of China and to view the country’s history from the party’s perspective.
Now the government appears to be testing the waters by introducing the study of the Basic Law in schools, which is but another form of patriotic education.
Leung may just be after ensuring that his administration is remembered kindly in Hong Kong history.
But so far he has become the most unpopular among the city’s leaders after the handover.
Or he may just want to leave a roadmap to guide the leadership of the future. That’s what Leung loyalists are saying: “Change the chief executive, but don’t change the roadmap.”
By working on these controversial policies, Leung probably thinks he is doing his bit to help the next administration tackle the problems facing the city.
He knows that the opposition has thrown roadblocks in the path of accomplishing his and Beijing’s vision for the territory, and by pursuing these unpopular policies, he believes he is serving Hong Kong people.
The city will know who will be its next leader three months from now, but that doesn’t mean we will have a new Hong Kong.
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