We have not seen anything quite like it since the last colonial governor 15 years ago - a leader reaching out to ordinary people in the street. The similarities between Hong Kong chief executive-designate Leung Chun-ying and Chris Patten do not end there. Patten was, of course, a career elected politician. Leung is acting like one. He has good reason to, after a big slump in his ratings during a bitter election campaign marked by mud-slinging and personal smearing. He has three months to rebuild them before taking office and apparently sees the need to remain in campaign mode.
That is not meant to sound cynical about his people politics. Indeed, we trust that Leung means to go on with it after he assumes office. After all, Hong Kong has not been that well served by the cumbersome politics of consensus through formal public consultations, a process often frustrated by resistance to change from vested interests and the caution of civil-service advisers. More interaction between the public and leaders without a popular mandate could be a useful circuit-breaker to remoteness that does nothing for good government.
Leung has started on the right foot. During a visit to a housing estate, for example, he surprised people protesting against any plan to relaunch national security legislation by engaging with them and noting their concern about damage to rights enshrined in the Basic Law. He is thus operating like a politician who does not want to alienate ordinary people because he may one day need their votes. That will be the case if he is to run for re-election in 2017, when the chief executive should be elected by universal suffrage. Meanwhile, our leaders should be encouraged to interact more with the public, including protesters, so that they are better placed to weigh the people's concerns against the interests of those with the ear of government, such as big business and Beijing.