Let me say a proper 'thank you' to CY Leung if no one else will

Yonden Lhatoo gives credit where it’s due to our beleaguered chief executive, even if no one else will be so bold

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 3:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 7:08pm

“Just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more,” a bitter Richard Nixon famously declared in his “last press conference” after losing the California gubernatorial race back in 1962.

Similarly, now that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has decided against seeking a second term as Hong Kong’s leader, there’s no one left to blame for everything. Mind you, Nixon made a historic comeback by winning the US presidential election in 1968, and ended up getting kicked around a whole lot more, but I doubt that will be the case with Leung.

He will get to spend more time with his family for some much-needed healing and recovery from the severe toll that these past years of relentless vilification and public shaming have taken on all of them. And, in all probability, his status will eventually be elevated by Beijing to that of a dignified elder statesman, in the footsteps of Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa. Good for Leung.

For four years, I’ve watched the people of this city chew him up and spit him out, subjecting him to all manner of vile and vicious attacks that no human, let alone a head of government, should have to put up with. Hong Kong’s mob mentality is reminiscent of the Salem witch-hunt and the Spanish Inquisition when it comes to accusing, judging and burning this man at the stake.

I’ve criticised Leung myself in this space sometimes, but it was never driven by blinkered hatred.

I give him full credit for doing more for housing, by far the most debilitating problem in Hong Kong, than his predecessors. Of course, it still falls far short of demands, but at least he had the guts to take on property developers by ramping up the supply of land to build public flats, and raising duties on property transactions to curb speculation.

CY Leung vows to boost housing land supply, even if prices drop by HK$1 million for new flats

Perhaps, more than anything else, that was why his leadership was doomed from the start. The powerful tycoons who control Hong Kong’s economy were never on his side to begin with when he upended the 2012 chief executive election to defeat their preferred choice of candidate, fellow fat cat Henry Tang Ying-yen.

Here was a self-made man who started from humble beginnings, unlike his predecessors from the bureaucratic and business elite, and they just wouldn’t give him a chance. His original grass-roots-oriented, populist approach failed, and it didn’t help that he came across as increasingly aloof, unreasonable and intolerant.

It’s always been damned if you do and damned if you don’t for Leung. Mainland mothers dry up the city’s supply of infant milk formula and it’s his fault for opening up the border to let them in. He starts limiting the amount they can take out of the city and he gets flak from the business community for interfering in the free market. He can never win.

Blame adversarial politics, not Leung Chun-ying, for Hong Kong’s polarised society

Truth be told, the job of the chief executive has become untenable. It makes you wonder who in their right mind would want to fill that hot seat and suffer the third-degree burns it entails, given our city’s caustic political atmosphere and unbridgeable social divide.

Calling Hong Kong’s top job a poisoned chalice is putting it mildly. It’s more like a soul-destroying roller-coaster ride designed in hell to inflict the maximum pain and punishment. Leading this city is the equivalent of being made to crawl over broken glass, through a gauntlet of rabid enemies baying for your blood as they flog you without mercy.

And yet, despite the world of septic shock and post-traumatic stress disorder that awaits them, some lemmings are already lining up to take a dive off that leadership cliff. My advance sympathies to them and sincere thanks to the man whose shoes they hope to fill.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post