Leung must dig himself out of the credibility hole
It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the fate of the entire Leung Chun-ying administration hinges on how well he conducts himself in the next two weeks. If he gets it right, he can recover quickly from the bumpy start he has been suffering since his come-from-behind victory in the chief executive election. But if he gets it wrong, it is going to be a hard five-year slog with little prospect of re-election at the end of it.
The immediate issue is one of Leung's credibility, or, as some would put it, his integrity.
The unauthorised building works at his home on the Peak are, of themselves, trivial. Neither in number nor scale are they unusual or serious, especially when compared to the enormous underground palace of his rival candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen.
Nonetheless, what makes the issue a serious one is that, during the campaign, much was made of the apparent difference between the two candidates on this subject. So confident was Leung that he even invited the media to visit his home. After the election, he issued a statement to the effect that his home was 'clean'.
When it turned out that he did after all have some illegal alterations, the move backfired spectacularly.
Either he was being incredibly arrogant, thinking that no one would be able to spot the works in question, or incredibly careless.
His opponents naturally take the former view and say this proves he lacks integrity, while his supporters are driven to hide behind the excuse of 'innocent mistake'. The latter is wearing a bit thin given that it has already been deployed once in the similar farrago over the West Kowloon design competition.
How can Leung dig himself out? First, he must prepare a comprehensive report describing each of the unauthorised works: what it is, how big it is, and the history (such as whether it was there when he bought the place). And it must be a full report. The media, legislators, the public at large, all will be looking for sins of omission as well as any outright falsehoods.
If any of the previous statements Leung has made could be construed as being in any way in conflict with this new report, then he should also draw attention to the possible discrepancies on his own initiative and do his best to explain them. Only total transparency can save him now.
There is one other area where Leung has dug a hole for himself, and that is in his determination to drive the government restructuring proposals through the legislature before July 1. That effort failed, with some denting of Leung's prestige in the process.
It is absolutely vital that our chief executive does not make the same mistake as his predecessor and hold a grudge against those who have thwarted him. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen never forgave the democrats for torpedoing his 2005 political reform package, and this poisoned his relations with them.
Leung could instead seize the chance to turn failure into opportunity. The Civic Party previously offered to support Leung's bid for two new portfolio ministers - one each for culture and technology - if they could have more time to consider the two new proposed deputy posts under the chief secretary and financial secretary. Leung's office should check with Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit whether that offer is still on the table. If it is, he should grab it with both hands.
By showing he is not bitter, by acting in a statesmanlike manner, showing he can 'reach across the aisle' to get public business done, Leung could start to win back some of the public support he has lost in recent weeks.
It will be a long road, but as we Chinese like to say, even the longest journey begins with a single step.
Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. firstname.lastname@example.org