HK Magazine Archive

Three Years On: Democracy and Other Such Worthless Issues

How has CY Leung managed freedom of speech and constitutional reform in the last three years?
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 July, 2015, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:44pm

He Said:

  • Reform functional constituencies! 
  • Expand the electorate!
  • Universal suffrage in 2017! 
  • Abolish appointed seats on the District Councils!
  • Preserve Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and other stuff!
  • Forge closer links with the community!
  • Increase engagement with… young people?

He Did:

  • Inevitably, the issue of universal suffrage has plagued CY’s term in office. His pro-establishment stance on political issues has generated conflict with Legco and the public alike, and left him with a reputation for being disconnected from the people. His aloof nature and lack of media savvy doesn’t help, either.
  • Of the big three promises—reform functional constituencies, seek universal suffrage in 2017, and abolish the appointed seats in the District Council elections—CY has delivered one. In 2016 District Councils will no longer contain unelected posts. However, functional constituences are just as messed up as ever and (meaningful) universal suffrage is looking ever more unlikely.
  • Occupy Central polarized the public still further. Hundreds of thousands demanded his resignation, but the CE didn’t budge, even raising a toast with mainland officials at a flag-raising ceremony on National Day in the middle of the protests. Instead, by waiting for the tide of public opinion to turn against the protesters, CY kept quiet until he was able to disperse the crowds. It didn’t win him many fans, but it gained him Beijing’s confidence. With the recent electoral reform vote swinging in favor of the pro-democracy camp after the pro-establishment bloc bungled a plot to delay the vote, CY is in the hot seat once again. 

“There is obviously participation by people, organizations from outside of Hong Kong… There are external forces from different countries… This is not entirely a domestic movement.”
October 19, 2014. CY first references the “foreign forces” working behind Occupy. He has yet to provide proof of their involvement.


  • Hong Kong’s position in the Press Freedom Index has fallen from 54th of 180 in 2012 down to 70th, which is down from 34 in 2010 (and 18 in 2002). A Hong Kong University poll in April reported that satisfaction with press freedom was at a record low of 46 percent, down from 55 percent during the Occupy movement in late September and and 58 percent last April, just before former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau was assaulted.
  • In contrast to his predecessor Donald Tsang, CY appears to have picked businessmen with close ties to Beijing for his advisory bodies. The highest-profile appointment is of Levin Zhu Yunlai, son of ex-China premier Zhu Rongji, to the Financial Services Development Council. CY and Zhu Sr. are old mates from when Zhu was in charge of Shanghai. Other appointments include members of the Hong Kong Y. Elites Association, a pro-Beijing organization formed of the children of prominent tycoons and businessmen. When it comes to “forging closer links with community,” CY might be forging them in the wrong direction.
  • Plans for a “national education” curriculum had to be shelved after attempts to introduce the pro-China material met with massive protest in mid-2012, not long after CY’s appointment. The resistance gave rise to student protest group Scholarism, and CY was forced to shelve the plans. Still, as far as engagement with young people goes: It may not have been what he had in mind, but you can’t deny that under the CY administration, young people have been more engaged than ever in Hong Kong politics…

The Grade: F