Donald Tsang

Chief executive must learn from predecessor's mistakes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am

If Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying makes the same kind of mistakes as his predecessor, then his administration will quickly find itself bogged down in a morass of recriminations and ineffectiveness.

But if he learns from Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's mistakes - and corrects the missteps that have got his own term off to such a troubled start - then there is every prospect of a successful first period in office, and a return to power in 2017 by direct election.

Leung has an activist agenda that he wants to implement over the next five years, so his top priority must be to achieve a constructive working relationship with the Legislative Council.

He needs to think about how and why his predecessor's administration began with such promise, but deteriorated so sharply. The problems of the Tsang administration began when the democratic camp made the mistake of vetoing the political reform package of 2005. The then chief executive's mistaken response to that error triggered the slide which followed.

Tsang could never bring himself to forgive the democratic camp for his legislative defeat and the loss of face which followed. From that point on, he made it clear that he regarded the pan-democrats as the enemy. He would in future seek to work only with those perceived to be 'friends'.

Later in his term when he needed democratic support for his policies, it was either withheld or grudgingly and incompletely given. In the meantime, the attacks on him and his team were relentless.

A similar situation is happening now with the foolish lawsuit challenging Leung's election by judicial review or by election petition. It is not for me to comment on the legal merits of the twin cases, as they are now before the courts. But from a political perspective, the whole exercise is a disaster. Everyone can see that this is political point-scoring of the most childish kind.

In the real world, there is no prospect of Beijing rescinding Leung's appointment. The result will be to drag down our leader - the person who represents us in the eyes of the world - and damage his reputation.

And it won't enhance the city's reputation in Beijing either.

It is at this point that there is both danger and opportunity.

If Leung succumbs to the all too human instinctive reaction and sidelines the democrats in future to punish them for their behaviour, then he foregoes the chance to be a leader for the whole community and run an inclusive administration as he has often promised.

If instead Leung takes the high road, shows he is the bigger man by ignoring the insults and dealing with the democrats again as soon as the dust from the lawsuit has settled, then the tide of public opinion will start to flow in his direction.

And when he needs democratic support for his policies - and much of his agenda on social issues is not wildly different from that of their camp - it should be forthcoming.

The other episode that poisoned public opinion during Tsang's administration was the sudden introduction of deputy ministers and political assistants. Up to that point, there had been precious little evidence that anyone was being held accountable for anything, so quite why two extra layers of non-accountability were required was not immediately apparent.

The limited consultation on the proposals shed little light, other than to reveal the inflated salaries at stake. When it turned out the 'three-point' scale in fact consisted of only two points, because no-one got the minimum whatever the paucity of experience and qualifications, public anger was palpable.

The public felt cheated. They had been.

The lessons for Leung are pretty simple. Ignore insults, keep an eye on the main objective, work with the necessary subjects to achieve the desired result. Tell the truth and don't slip controversial proposals through on the sly.

And keep smiling. Remember what my granny always used to say: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.