Cold waters

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am


Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying is in a distinctly difficult position after his hard-fought election - one that no chief executive has faced before. Both Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen began office with very high levels of public support although they eventually became extremely unpopular.

But, Leung begins office with relatively low public support ratings and without the trust of much of the establishment, which backed his main rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen. The former chief secretary, while deeply unpopular with the people, had the support of tycoons and traditional kingmakers as well as the central government.

Now, however, Leung clearly has Beijing's blessing. It is even possible that, without lobbying by the central government, there may well have been an abortive election.

Governing Hong Kong will be difficult. Next Sunday, the pan-democrats are organising a demonstration against him and, judging by the outcome of the University of Hong Kong's mock election, it is likely to be well attended. In that election, Leung - while getting more support than either of his rivals - only obtained 17.8 per cent of the vote, while a majority cast blank ballots, showing their disgust with the 'small-circle election'.

Fortunately, this is the last time Hong Kong will see a committee choose its chief executive. In 2017, the chief executive will be chosen through one person, one vote. But, exactly how this will be done remains to be seen. Fashioning the universal suffrage election system will be a major task of the next administration.

Meanwhile, Leung has to overcome the suspicions of the business community while fulfilling campaign promises to take care of the less fortunate in Hong Kong, in particular by providing low-cost housing. In this environment, anything he proposes will be opposed by one segment or another. What he needs to do is to show a vision of where he wants to take Hong Kong. He needs to stay away from Article 23 legislation since it will only bring turmoil. Beijing is likely to understand.

Clearly, the existing political system is not workable. Leung should take Hong Kong down a different path. At present, by law, the chief executive cannot belong to a political party. This is an anachronism and should be repealed since it ensures gridlock, with the government lacking votes to pass its programmes. Instead, Leung should propose a new system in which the chief executive will, in effect, represent the biggest political grouping in the Legislative Council. Any law presented by the government will have majority support or, at least, the support of a large number of legislators.

This is contrary to Beijing's original idea of an 'executive-led' government. But 15 years of experience shows it is time to try something different. Leung has said that he intends to stand for chief executive in 2017. Let us hope that he will help design a system of which he and Hong Kong can be proud.

Leung is starting from a low level of popular support. There is plenty of room for him to move up.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.

Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1