Leung on charm offensive on eve of protest march
It was almost as though the chief executive-elect, Leung Chun-ying, was back on the campaign trail yesterday as he met poor residents of Sham Shui Po to discuss their housing needs a day before thousands are expected to show their displeasure at the city's next leader and Beijing's alleged meddling in the election.
Leung took the MTR from Admiralty to Sham Shui Po, a district notorious for cubicle apartments, showing his human side by taking pictures and chatting to passengers. He then met residents of subdivided flats before attending a forum on housing problems organised by the Society for Community Organisation.
Residents demanded Leung build more public housing and provide more welfare. Leung said he would canvass support from society to pay extra attention to the hardships faced by the grass roots after he assumes the top job on July 1.
'In a small city like Hong Kong, no one can say 'certain kinds of problems have nothing to do with me' and then simply ignore it. We are in the same boat,' Leung said. 'When we need to find land ... to build public housing, it may block some views or affect air ventilation. However, for the benefit of the community, everyone should make a bit of compromise.'
Residents asked him to return at least once a year and Leung promised to continue community visits.
However, one critic said Leung's high-profile public appearances over the past week were unlikely to dampen interest in today's protest.
Leung said he would humbly listen to the protesters. 'Whether I attend the rally in person depends on the actual situation,' he said.
The former Executive Council convenor was elected last Sunday after securing 689 of 1,193 Election Committee votes - a much lower winning rate, at 61 per cent, than his predecessors Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Tung Chee-hwa - and with support of just 35 per cent in the city, according to a poll by the University of Hong Kong.
Since Leung was elected, his daily schedule has included meetings with different strata - including nine visits to local communities - and a controversial 90-minute visit to the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong on Monday. He has also met civil servant unions and plans to meet business leaders, who were seen as closer to his election rival Henry Tang Ying-yen, the former chief secretary.
Yesterday was the final working day for his election campaign team, and in the evening he attended a dinner with news executives.
Of the Sham Shui Po visit, veteran political analyst Johnny Lau Yui-siu said: 'It is an obvious gesture in mending his popularity rating, given that he was elected with three-lows [a reference to Leung's low popularity, low support and low credibility].'
Gary Fan Kwok-wai, of the Civil Human Rights Front - an organiser of today's rally - felt Leung's charm offensive was unlikely to dissuade people from marching today.
'The recent visits are merely gestures - a show to display that he is popular,' said Fan. 'His visit to the liaison office right after the election makes it look even more suspicious.'