Leung Chun-ying’s decision gives an opportunity for a new start

Chief executive cannot be faulted for putting his family ahead of public office, but his surprise announcement has of course raised many political eyebrows

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 December, 2016, 1:19am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 December, 2016, 2:18am

Leung Chun-ying’s announcement that he will not be standing for re-election as chief executive next year has caught Hong Kong by surprise. Citing his family members as the reason, he said they would not be able to put up with the pressure if he were to campaign for another term. The decision may disappoint many of his supporters in and outside the establishment, but it also comes as a relief to those who want to see him go, and gives the opportunity for a new start under a new leader.

As a father of three, Leung cannot be faulted for putting his family ahead of public office. Ever since he took office in 2012, his wife and children have been subject to intense media scrutiny. Recently, there have been news reports regarding the health of his daughter. Without divulging the details, Leung said it was incumbent upon him to take better care of his wife and daughter.

The surprise announcement has of course raised many political eyebrows. Even though Leung has never committed himself to running again, he has been seen as actively paving the way for a second term until yesterday, when he dropped the bombshell in a hastily arranged press conference. This is also the first time a chief executive has not sought a second term. Inevitably, speculations and conspiracy theories abound.

But that should be laid to rest in the wake of the responses from Beijing. In a statement, the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the chief executive’s work had all along been fully endorsed by the central government. It commended Leung for his important contribution in upholding state sovereignty, national security, and development interest as well as social and political stability. Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong also praised Leung for showing leadership and patriotism in tackling the Occupy protests and pro-independence movement. The two authorities also expressed the hope that Leung could continue to play a role in the development of Hong Kong and the country. These statements should help clear the air.

Hong Kong in shock as Chief Executive CY Leung decides not to seek re-election

Concerted effort needed to tackle city’s problems

The election to form the 1,200 Election Committee that chooses the next chief executive will be held tomorrow. It remains to be seen whether it would have an impact on the outcome of the ballot. Leung said he had pondered the issue for a few days and wanted to make an early announcement so that aspirants can come forward. By declaring his decision ahead of the ballot, Leung can avoid giving the impression that he is forced to give up re-election in light of insufficient support in the voting body.

Now that the incumbent has ruled himself out of the race, the situation becomes more fluid. So far retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah have expressed interest. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, while having indicated her intention not to run earlier, was tight-lipped when asked about Leung’s decision. It would not be surprising that more names emerge in the near future.

Leung’s departure offers the opportunity for Hong Kong to turn over a new leaf. Over the past few years, the political divide has noticeably widened and deepened under his leadership. Despite efforts to reach out to different stakeholders since 2012, the top leader has yet to win broad support in society. The community is just as split two years after the ill-fated universal suffrage reform and Occupy protests. It is to be hoped that the leadership change would give more room for reconciliation and cooperation in future.

But it takes more than the replacement of a helmsman to move forward. Admittedly, some deep-seated conflicts arose from the implementation of “one country, two systems”. Whoever succeeds Leung will still be facing an array of thorny issues that affect the delicate balance of the formula and the relations between the city and the nation. The problems need to be tackled through the concerted efforts of Beijing, the new government and the community as a whole.

Unbearable pain suffered by CY Leung’s family laid bare

Hardline approach strained working relations

As in the case for previous chief executives, the media will be awash with assessment of Leung’s performance and legacy in the months to come. Despite his relatively short stint, Leung is arguably more controversial than his predecessors in terms of governance style. Apart from his laudable policies like affordable housing and anti-poverty measures, he also won support for cracking down on cross-border parallel traders and banning mainland mothers from giving birth here. But his hardline approach on some politically sensitive issues also strained the working relations with the legislature and made him unpopular among certain sectors.

With still six months to go before he steps down, Leung has rightly pledged to serve out his remaining term with dedication and commitment. It is good to hear that some of his outstanding election promises, such as introducing standard working hours, have not be brushed aside. The outgoing chief has to ensure that his team does not become a lame duck government, and that there is a smooth succession of power.