HONG KONG — Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying assumed office in July, after being maneuvered towards the city’s top political job by the Chinese central government. As details emerge that suggest Leung ran a less-than-honest election campaign, pro-democracy legislators are calling for his impeachment.
His election victory in March came after former Beijing favorite Henry Tang was accused of building an illegal basement in his multi-million-dollar home.
Capitalizing on this revelation, Leung beat Tang, the former chief secretary for administration, in a vote decided by just 1,200 broadly pro-China appointees.
According to legislator and respected lawyer Ronny Tong, it soon emerged that Leung had breached the very same planning laws in one, if not more, of his own luxury homes.
“He was projecting an image to the public that he was clean himself. A lot of people think he was being totally dishonest in making such serious accusations against his opponent, yet saying nothing to the public about the presence of illegal structures at his own home,” Tong said.
Leung appeared before the legislative council Monday at a hastily arranged question and answer session. Visibly strained, he offered a nuanced defense of the unauthorized building works (UBW), and their role in his election campaign.
“It is a question of fact. I did not say that I had no unauthorized building works, according to my own recollection ... There are some UBWs that I built. But most of them were not built by me,” Leung said.
Late Wednesday, Leung faced a motion of no-confidence. Accused of “stealing the election” and repeatedly lying to the council, he survived a narrow vote only with undemocratically appointed, pro-Beijing legislators swaying the outcome.
Opposition Labor Party leader C.Y. Lee told the chamber, “Integrity is one of the fundamentals of leadership”. Next week, he said, pan-democrats would demand a special investigation into Leung’s "web of deceit" and his impeachment will then be pursued.
“There are lots of things that need to be investigated. People are very angered by his lack of integrity. Apologizing is not enough. We believe he should come clean and through the debate we can force out our concern, and force him to be accountable to the people,” Lee said.
Public sentiment would appear to be swinging behind the pan-democrats, with the most recent opinion poll showing Leung’s popularity falling below 50 percent for the first time. Leung supporters warn any effort to impeach the chief executive could spark a constitutional crisis in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Cabinet member Jeffrey Lam adds that such a move appears disproportionate to the alleged crime.
“It is difficult to keep everybody happy. I think he has tried to answer most questions. There were still some legislators who are not happy ... He has to deal with this. Let us see the outcome after the debates,” Lam said.
With the legislature of this former British colony weighted in favor of pro-Beijing interests, Leung is likely to avoid full impeachment. But Ronny Tong sees the bigger picture.
"Effectively making an attempt to evade his responsibility and tell lies would probably qualify him as the first chief executive [capable of being] impeached in the history of Hong Kong ... “This will raise attention not just in Hong Kong, but in the international community, and hopefully put pressure on C.Y. Leung to resign,” Tong said.
Leung supporters argue the pan-democrats’ efforts against the chief executive only serve to incapacitate the Hong Kong government.
Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau had a message for the public. “We call on the Hong Kong people to march on January 1st to show their disgust and their demand for C.Y. Leung to step down immediately,” Lau said.
Protest organizers are predicting more than 100,000 people will take to the streets, despite the prospect of political uncertainty extending into the New Year.