Policy address is key for CY to salvage waning popularity
Leung likely to announce populist measures in an effort to revive his flagging popularity
The environment and education are two of the main issues to be raised by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in the policy address that he is writing under mounting political pressure following Tuesday's protest marches.
The speech, which is scheduled to be delivered on January 16, is seen as the key to boosting Leung's flagging popularity. But a former senior government adviser says he is not optimistic it will help the chief executive regain support and overcome a political stalemate.
Professor Lau Siu-kai, former head of the Central Policy Unit, said the turnout for the anti-government march on Tuesday, which was significantly higher than in previous new year marches, was a warning.
Lau said the rallies organised by the rival camps on Tuesday were evidence of heightened polarisation, which was also a matter of concern in Beijing.
According to a source familiar with the drafting of the policy address, it will contain populist measures, such as implementing 15 years of free education, including subsidies to kindergartens for teachers' wages.
Roadside air quality will also be among the measures, in which billions of dollars will go to the Environment Bureau to subsidise the phasing out of older, higher polluting vehicles. Forming a land reserve for housing will also be included.
In the largest demonstration, organisers said more than 130,000 people marched to demand Leung's resignation while police put the turnout at 26,000.
Lau was pessimistic about whether Leung could resolve the political stalemate he faced with a policy address. "If Leung puts forward drastic and ambitious measures, which incur long-term public spending, it would only spark bigger controversy."
Xinhua reported that Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government's liaison office, had met Leung but did not say when. Released a day after the march, the report quoted Zhang as saying Leung's policies had won wide recognition from society and that state leaders had affirmed his work.
A University of Hong Kong public opinion programme survey from December 18 to December 28 found Leung's popularity rating scored 49.1 out of a possible 100 marks, down 0.1 from a poll between December 1-4.