C.Y.'s new priority: restoring confidence
After months of struggle, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying appears to have given up the fight to expand his ruling team, at least for now. On Monday, the government said its restructuring plan had been allocated the last slot on Legco's agenda. This leaves just seven days to clear 23 bills and resolutions, many of which will have a direct impact on people's livelihoods. It is almost certain that the revamp cannot be passed in the current term. Nor should it.
Given the prevailing political sentiment, this outcome is hardly surprising. The revamp has always been an uphill battle. Not only will it cost taxpayers more money, the legislature and its pan-democrats in particular have yet to be convinced why two new bureaus and two deputy secretaries have to be added to the much criticised ministerial team. When rules were bent to help Leung fast-track the plan, it backfired, triggering a filibuster by rebel lawmakers. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that its passage before summer's end is unlikely.
Leung's new team has made a turbulent start. Unable to get a full team on July 1, Leung and his ministers were dealt a further blow when the media turned the public spotlight on illegal structures found at their properties. The recent reports surrounding Development Minister Mak Chai-kwong's property dealings more than 20 years ago have also raised suspicions. In light of the discontent, priority must be given to restoring confidence. That means focusing on issues of public concern rather than pushing a political agenda like restructuring.
The setback should be a reminder for Leung that there is no guarantee of support in the legislature. With the Legco election in September, pro-government parties cannot afford to support unpopular plans for fear of upsetting the voters. For the new team, there is no alternative but to come to terms with this political reality. Bulldozing through the revamp at the expense of people's livelihoods would be political suicide.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has expressed worries over what she called serious and irrational delays caused by the filibuster. While lawmakers' right to speak freely within the rules should not be unduly curbed, Lam is right to say that there are growing concerns that the legislature is increasingly unable to handle effectively proposals tabled by the administration. The new Legco, which will be expanded from 60 to 70 seats, will be formed in October. Whether the government can rule effectively will depend on the new balance of power. It is imperative that Legco continues to work with the executive arm without compromising its checks-and-balances role. The restructuring plan is likely to be scrutinised by the new Legco after October. Meanwhile, Leung has to double his efforts to win public support and deliver on his election promises.