Two days after saying the government's voluntary minimum-wage initiative has been a failure, Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying went into full damage-control mode, making rare appearances on radio phone-in programmes to clarify his remarks. He denied he had delivered a premature verdict on the 'wage protection movement' six months before a full review of the initiative, launched in October 2006, was due. Mr Leung also dismissed speculation that his backing for a statutory minimum wage was aimed at pleasing the grass roots because he is eyeing a run for chief executive post in 2012. Admittedly, it is not the first time Mr Leung has questioned the effectiveness of the government's initiative, under which employers commit to pay - or ensure their contractors pay - cleaners and security guards at least the median rate for the job. Nor is he alone in having criticised the scheme. Few employers have signed up since Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen launched the scheme 18 months ago as a substitute for legislation. Mr Leung's critics say he has not just shot himself in the foot but given unionists fresh ammunition in their fight for a statutory minimum wage. He has also exposed himself to flak from opponents eager to shoot down any ambitions he may harbour of leading the next government. Although Mr Leung has insisted he was speaking in a personal capacity, there is no denying his view carries more weight than those of ordinary people. His criticism of the scheme further reduces the government's room for manoeuvre on a minimum wage. His high-profile approach to the issue was in such striking contrast to his usually cautious political style that it has, inevitably, fuelled speculation about his political ambitions. It has lent more credence to the theory that his support for minimum-wage legislation is part of an 'image re-engineering' to pave the way for his entry to the chief executive race in 2012. More evidence that he is making an early start in that race came in an interview he gave broadcaster ATV last month. He side-stepped a question about whether he was still insisting he could not foresee himself ever running for chief executive, by responding that anyone in business or public service must ensure the circumstances are right when making a decision. This, taken with his more active role in recent political debates, suggests Mr Leung has decided it is time to show his intentions. If that is so, it helps explain why he is adopting a higher profile and becoming less reticent about wading in on controversial issues such as a minimum wage. A seasoned politician, Mr Leung well understands the critical importance of improving his public image and his popularity if he is to contest the 2012 election. Although the chief executive will not be elected by 'one person, one vote' until 2017 at the earliest, a candidate lacking public support will not stand a chance in 2012. Last year, the participation of the Civic Party's Alan Leong Kah-kit in the chief executive contest turned a 'small-circle election' into something nearer a popular contest. The 2012 poll will be no exception. Pro-democracy unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan was pleasantly surprised that Mr Leung - who he said was known for his loyalty to the authorities - had dared to speak his mind on a minimum wage. Ironically, the debate Mr Leung has sparked by speaking out shows his role as Exco convenor could become a liability for him. He will be walking on thin ice as he strives to recast his image, identity and present his ideas to the public. It will be a venture fraught with risk. But Mr Leung, as a self-taught horticulture expert, does not need telling about the need to roll up his sleeves and toil for a good harvest even when the soil and weather conditions have seemingly become favourable.