Unlike elsewhere in the world, where 2013 has been celebrated with joy and festivity, Hong Kong has ushered in the new year with politically charged rallies and protests. Yesterday, tens of thousands of people from two opposing camps took to the street to demonstrate for and against the embattled chief executive. While the polarisation has inevitably fuelled political tension, it also underlines our society's pluralism and diversity.
Regardless of the actual turnout for either side, there are two divergent views. Some demand Leung step down immediately, saying he is no longer a trustworthy leader because of the way he handled the row over illegal structures at his properties. However, there are those who want him to get on with the job and move on. They criticised the opposition camp for disrupting governance and preventing the Leung team from taking on more pressing challenges.
Despite their differences, those who marched did so for the same reason. For or against the chief executive, they marched to be counted. The rival groups deserve the same respect for what they believe to be the right way forward. That so many people gave up their rest day to have their voices heard is to be commended. The government should respond. Like it or not, the political reality is that Leung's fate lies in the hands of Beijing rather than Hongkongers. The recent support expressed by state leaders means the city's leader is more likely to stay on than step down. If that is the case, it is imperative for him to bridge the divide and lead us forward.
The turnout for the anti-Leung march is far below the landmark protest against Tung Chee-hwa in 2003. But the strong outpouring of discontent should not be taken lightly. Leung has to double his efforts in restoring trust in his integrity. For the sake of effective governance over the coming years, it is a battle he must win. Also, he must not take the support for his leadership for granted. Many rallied behind him in the hope of better governance. Their confidence in him should be met with improved policies and livelihoods for the community. The coming policy address and budget will put him to the test. A government statement said Leung was working on people's livelihoods, addressing deep-rooted problems and promoting social harmony. As the chief executive, he has a duty to seek common ground while narrowing differences in society. This is the way to forge public consensus and move forward.