Olga Wong and Stuart Lau
Arrangements for the town hall meetings may have improved, but the community visits initiated by the new chief executive Leung Chun-ying seem destined to upset his supporters and detractors alike.
Both Peter Cheng and Joe Chan said yesterday they wanted a seat in the Tung Tau Community Hall in Wong Tai Sin where Leung was to hold a public consultation session with local residents. While the former, a university graduate, planned to demonstrate his anger towards the government's failure in providing affordable flats, the latter hoped to meet the city's new leader and show his support. Only Cheng managed to get in.
There were many, like Chan, who failed to get into the meeting yesterday and showed their frustration. 'I just want to show my support. I was here at 10am but I still can't get in,' said a man outside the hall who declined to be named.
The government said tickets were delivered at 12.15pm. But some of the elderly, who admitted to being 'encouraged' by pro-government parties to queue for a ticket, said they arrived at 7am. Leung eventually arrived at 1pm with a police escort, amid crowds of protesters asking him to step down.
The district councils modified the way the six town hall meetings were organised yesterday, after one held last week in Tuen Mun turned into a fiasco. But the limited number of seats, about 200, was just too few for too many.
The different expectations of those attending the meetings and those who protested outside also highlighted the need for the new government to address political and social issues.
Following criticism of the first round of public meetings last week, in which council chairmen were moderators and picked questions according to their preferences, the Home Affairs Department and the district councils assigned a ticket to each attendant yesterday. The tickets were used for a lottery by which the council chairmen granted the right to ask questions.
The new arrangements have allowed opposing views to seep into the sessions. But exchanges between Leung's team and the attendees were interrupted from time to time.
'I'm still unhappy with the arrangement. The Trade Unions have made use of old people, asking them to occupy the seats of the meeting in early morning. Many still couldn't get in,' said a man who only gave his name as Lau.
He held a banner saying 'Wolf-like Leung doesn't represent us' during the Wong Tai Sin meeting and commented on Leung's answers loudly from his seat from time to time.
About a third of the attendees at the meeting were elderly, some of whom left quietly within 30 minutes.
But Chan Yuen-han, a Wong Tai Sin district councillor and honorary president of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said she did not know if her organisation had 'arranged' for the elderly to attend the meeting.
Outside the hall, protestors called loudly for democracy and questioned Leung's commitment to the city's core values, unlike the meetings which focused more on livelihood issues.
In an attempt to relieve the tension, Leung told attendees yesterday that he would express a clearer stance on the latest controversy surrounding the police detention of a reporter who asked Hu Jintao a question about the June 4 crackdown when the president visited Hong Kong two weeks ago.
'I attach great importance to press freedom, including the freedom to cover news,' Leung said.
His transport and housing minister, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, also emphasised that he treasured the city's core values at the same meeting.
But those who tried to put questions to Leung seemed concerned with more pragmatic issues: affordable housing, hospitals with emergency units, more elderly-friendly infrastructure, more facilities for revitalised industrial buildings, even paternity leave for fathers-to-be.
Leung was also tested by a member of the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, who showed him a pile of cardboard and old newspapers. 'Mr Leung, do you know how much people can make by selling them?' Leung received the pile and named a few proposals in his election platform that he thought would improve the life of the elderly.
In concluding remarks, Leung urged residents to be more tolerant if public housing flats were built near their homes: 'You may want an open space instead of public flats. But it will take a little sacrifice to accommodate all requests from 7 million people.'
He was sent off by about 100 protestors from the League of Social Democrats and People Power, who tried to push through the police cordon. It took Leung more than 10 minutes to leave the estate where the community hall is located.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and health minister Dr Ko Wing-man convened a meeting in Ap Lei Chau. As one of the Leung cabinet's most popular officials, Lam - dressed in a casual green shirt and white sports shoes - impressed the audience by saying that popularity and 'face' form no part of her self-evaluation.
Amid a public outcry over integrity issues now confronting key officials, including her boss, Lam assured the crowd by saying, 'I won't do anything that goes against my conscience.'
After taking an array of questions, including one suggesting she 'stage a coup' to replace Leung, and another about the insufficient number of places to put urns, Lam restated her loyalty to the chief executive.
The number of seats available at yesterday's public meeting between Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Wong Tai Sin residents