Calls for Leung Chun-ying to step down as chief executive are mounting, with a top legal scholar describing it as "one of the options" to ease social tensions and a public confidence crisis.
"The calls during the July 1 protest to ask C.Y. to step down were loud and clear. This reflects that the discontent of Hong Kong people and their distrust of the government have reached boiling point," said Johannes Chan Man-mun, dean of the faculty of law at the University of Hong Kong, and a member of Hong Kong 2020, headed by former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, which is pushing for political reform.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Chan described Leung's governance as "the worst" among all three chief executives in the 16 years since the handover.
"When Leung first took over the chief executive post a year ago, some of his supporters appealed to the public to give him time to perform. However, I do not see what Leung has achieved so far, while the situation continues to get worse," Chan said. "Definitely, one of the options is for him to step down … I don't see any turning point for the better if he continues to stay in the post. Things can only get worse as the public has lost confidence."
Chan said one of the key factors behind Leung's poor governance and loss of public confidence was his lack of a strong cabinet to garner public support for his policies.
Leung's net approval rating with Hongkongers has hit a record low. In a June 13-19 poll by HKU, only 27 per cent of the 1,040 interviewees backed Leung as chief executive, versus 55 per cent who cast a vote of no confidence. In another survey, by Chinese University, nearly half of more than 800 Hongkongers expressed no confidence in Leung's ability to improve his governance in the coming year.
"Hong Kong people need more than just a capable chief executive; they need to know about his cabinet which works directly under him to carry out policies," the dean said.
Chan acknowledged Leung's choice of cabinet members was limited, as some people he wanted to recruit might not have wanted to join him. He also admitted that any suitable replacement must be able to recruit a strong cabinet. It would have to resolve a string of long-running political issues - from universal suffrage to the working relationship between the Executive Council and Legislative Council.
Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, agreed that stepping down was an option for Leung. "The situation is quite obvious that people have lost confidence in C.Y. Leung. People do not expect he will be able to secure this confidence again," Cheng said.
And if Leung wanted to remain in the top job he must first admit he was facing a crisis.
"He must admit he's in a state of crisis, and offer solutions."
Political pundit Dr James Sung Lap-kung, of City University's School of Continuing and Professional Education, has a different view. "Maybe Johannes Chan looked at the matter from a legal perspective. But for me, in public governance terms, [asking the chief executive to step down] is not a good option," Sung said.
Leung had put a great deal of effort into tackling housing problems, Sung said, adding that the chief executive should be given one more year.
If by then "he cannot deal with the housing and poverty issues and has made no progress or even procrastinated on constitutional reform", he should consider quitting, Sung said.