No need to scrap town hall meetings
When government town hall meetings aimed at engaging the community end up in chaos and criticism, something is clearly amiss. The meet-the-public sessions have seen Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying mobbed by angry protesters, participants trading insults, ministers being forced to leave by the back door and accusations of attendance and questions being manipulated by pro-Beijing groups. Better arrangements are needed if the forums are to continue.
Although the district visits are seen in some quarters as nothing more than political shows, the new team's efforts to reach out to the community are the right way forward. The people will not have a vote to choose their leader until 2017. It is only natural that they will do their utmost to have their voices heard. The controversies over illegal structures at the homes of the chief executive and a few of his ministers and the arrest and resignation of Mak Chai-kwong as development secretary have seriously undermined people's confidence in the new government. Popular anger has made the forums a baptism of fire for Leung, but there is no reason to scrap them. It is important that different views are heard. It would not be helpful if only voices in support of the government reach the ministers.
However, protesters should also reflect on their approach. While the right to demonstrate should not be restricted, the right for others to express views in a peaceful and rational manner should be respected, too. Storming the town hall meetings will only disrupt fruitful exchanges and provoke public outrage. The change in leadership has raised public expectations to such a high level that it will be difficult to meet them. This, coupled with a low level of public support, means the Leung government faces a rocky road ahead. Officials have to work harder to deliver. It will be meaningless if the views expressed at the public meetings are listened to but not reflected in polices.