Leung has to master 3Rs to establish his new deal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2012, 12:00am


When US president Franklin Roosevelt came into office during the Depression in the 1930s, he introduced his famous New Deal, with its '3Rs': relief, recovery and reform.

While one cannot directly compare Hong Kong today with the United States of that time, chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying started his own '3Rs' the day after he was elected: reach out to the public, reunite the community and restore people's confidence.

Later this week he will go to Beijing to receive his appointment orders from Premier Wen Jiabao . Leung needs to assure Beijing that he will accomplish these 3Rs in the coming three months before being sworn into office on July 1.

Then he must carry out a greater mission - reform while maintaining stability.

On Sunday, thousands took to the streets to protest at Beijing's alleged meddling in the election. Leung issued a statement reiterating his determination to protect the core values of Hong Kong - the rule of law, democracy and freedom of speech.

Nevertheless, his victory was seen as a result of the central government's - especially its liaison office's - efforts behind the scenes.

With these allegations and a low popularity rating of about 35 per cent when elected, Leung, who once enjoyed a rating of over 50 per cent, realised how difficult his start would be. That's why he wasted no time in starting his post-election campaign. Fortunately for Leung, he has a golden opportunity. Last Thursday the Independent Commission Against Corruption arrested former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan and two of the Kwok brothers who control the giant Sun Hung Kai Properties.

Hongkongers, long proud of their clean government, were stunned, then angry. And they are pinning their hopes on Leung. Radio phone-in programmes over the past few days have been full of callers urging him to restore clean government.

Interestingly, a front-page story in the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao last Friday quoted sources as saying the 'tall man' (Leung is tall), when informed of the case, was shocked and told the present government to 'handle it now - don't leave this hot potato to the next government'.

Leung, who was once the under-dog in the campaign while Beijing initially preferred his rival Henry Tang Ying-yen, knows only too well that popularity counts. That's partly why he has reached out again to meet ordinary people, taking his campaign into a new phase.

What surprised many was that during a visit to a private housing estate mainly inhabited by the middle class last week, Leung took the initiative to walk towards a group of protesters, telling them that he had heard their voices against legislating Article 23 of the Basic Law.

To Kwan-hang, the leader of the group, told the Post the demonstrators were surprised that Leung approached them that night.

According to Leung's aides, regardless of whether the protesters listen to him or not, he wants to foster a new political culture, even though in some people's eyes that is only a 'political show'.

Leung's second 'R' is reuniting the community. It's an area of weakness for him. He lacked support from many in the business community and lacked the trust of the civil servants owing to his 'tough' management style. That's likely why Leung, in his meeting with eight civil servants' unions on the second day after his election, assured them that 'we are in the same boat'.

Yesterday he met the major chambers of commerce and will lunch in the middle of this month with various pro-establishment parties, including Tang's stronghold, the Liberal Party. Meanwhile, a meeting with pan-democrat legislators is being planned.

But it seems Leung's third 'R' - restoring people's confidence - is the one that he anticipates will be his greatest challenge.

His high-profile visit to the liaison office after he was elected caused great controversy. And being addressed as 'comrade' by the official People's Daily website when it introduced him as Hong Kong's future leader triggered a new round of suspicion about his alleged Communist Party membership. (Hong Kong's Basic Law stipulates the chief executive must not be affiliated with any party.) The website blamed its editor for making the mistake and deleted the term 'comrade' quickly.

Leung called television crews and photographers from major media organisations. Then, standing in the lobby of his office, he signed a statement, co-signed by a Justice of the Peace, giving it legal weight: 'I, Leung Chun-ying, declare here again I'm not a Chinese Communist Party member; neither do I have affiliation with any political party.'

Whether you believe him or not, Hongkongers have seldom seen such a dramatic statement.

When Leung meets Wen some time this week, he understands well that he must not step into Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the party and the State Council, empty-handed.

He needs some progress to report, whether it's an increase in his popularity or assurances of co-operation from business and civil servants.

Yet this is only the beginning. The moment Beijing decided to pick Leung rather than Tang - who was seen as a symbol of the status quo - Hongkongers began to expect change, whether good or bad.

The final 'R' for Leung is reform. The question is what and how.