Leung Chun-ying faces uphill task building trust with pan-democrats
With the pan-democrat camp in the new Legco more radical than before, chief executive will have a tough task building trust with its members
When the Legislative Council convenes on October 10, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, besides finding a more fragmented legislature, is also likely to face an uphill challenge - to regain the trust of the pan-democratic camp and rebuild their working relationship.
Pan-democrats say their relationship with the administration was already damaged in July when Leung's administration tried to push controversial restrictions on by-elections and a government restructuring proposal through the previous Legco despite their opposition and filibustering.
They warned then that if Leung did not take a more conciliatory approach towards the camp, even moderate legislators might be forced to resort to radical means.
Pan-democrats won 27 of the 70 seats. Although the legislature has 10 more seats than the last one, the proportion of pan-democrats is roughly the same as previously. And there are no signs of a honeymoon period in the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government.
Their hostility was apparent a week after the September 9 ballot, when most of the pan-democratic parties boycotted a lunch hosted by Leung at the government offices, one of his first attempts to reach out to the new legislature.
Only three pan-democrats attended - the newly elected Charles Mok of the information technology sector, Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long of health services and Frederick Fung Kin-kee from the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood.
The major pan-democratic parties cited the government's plans to introduce a national education curriculum as the main sticking point, and criticised Leung for doing too little to allay their concerns about it.
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The Civic Party's leader, Alan Leong Kah-kit, said he believed national education and other controversies remain obstacles to the rebuilding of the relationship between pan-democrats and the administration.
"I see no reason for the pan-democrats to trust C. Y. Leung - there is no basis for trust," said Leong.
"I am pessimistic because we cannot see an engaging C. Y. so far; [instead, we see him as] continuing to push [controversial policies] with all his might."
The Civic Party won six seats in the Legco election - one in each of the five geographical constituencies and one in the legal sector. That makes it, along with the Democratic Party, which also won six seats, the two biggest parties in the pan-democratic camp, and equal second-largest in the legislature along with the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions.
However, the two parties were both outpolled in geographical constituencies on September 9 by their radical allies People Power and the League of Social Democrats, which between them received more than 264,000 votes, an increase of 110,000 on their showing four years ago.
The Civic Party won 255,000 votes, approximately a quarter more than in 2008, while the Democrats won 247,000 votes, almost 100,000 fewer than in 2008.
With support for the radicals on the rise, Leong declined to say whether the Civic Party would take a more radical stance as well. But he warned that if Leung refused to change his approach towards the Legco, moderate pan-democrats might be compelled to do so.
"There is no party line saying that '[we will become] more radical'. We want to reason … but the fact that People Power gained a much larger share of the vote [in the September 9 ballot] is an alarm to the government."
He also expects Legco to become more vigilant in scrutinising government proposals in the future.
"It does not mean that we must say 'no' to every policy, but we will [scrutinise them] with a very critical mind," he said.
The Democratic Party campaigned during the run-up to the vote as a moderate, rational force among the pan-democrats, yet the big drop in its vote caused party veteran Lee Wing-tat, and two other slates, to lose in the New Territories. Albert Ho Chun-yan stepped down as chairman immediately after the results were announced, admitting "serious failure".
Democratic Party vice-chairman Sin Chung-kai, who won his seat in the Hong Kong Island constituency, believes that it is time for the party to take a tougher stance. "We will stand firm on issues, rather than being radical," Sin said. "[This change] is partly due to the election results … but the biggest [reason] is Leung himself … his role in Western district [a reference to the location of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong] gave the public impression that he is a piece on [Beijing's] chessboard, or a Beijing-controlled chief executive.
"All this made us cautious about him.
"The voices of Hongkongers, urging us to regulate the government more firmly, were also strong during the election," he added.
Sin emphasised that the Democrats were still reviewing the implications of the September 9 results.
The party will hold a series of internal meetings to listen to its members' views, as well as conducting an online survey to gather public opinion about the party, before deciding on what role to play in Legco and local politics.
"After we have a direction for reform, it will be reflected in our election for a new party chairman and leadership [at the end of the year]," Sin said.
While the Civic Party and the Democrats remain unsure whether they will become radicals, the one-year-old Labour Party, which won four seats in the legislature, seems unafraid to declare its radical tendencies.
"I do not think that the radicals won more votes in the ballot just because voters want them to [behave] in a radical manner. The voters' message is that they were very dissatisfied with the government," said Labour Party chairman and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.
Lee also expects to see more public protest in the future, since the strained relationship between the pan-democrats and the government originates from public discontent.
"So in the end, it is not our relationship with Leung that we are concerned about; [the pan-democrats] are concerned about whether Leung listens to the people's voices," Lee emphasised.
"If Leung respects the people's voices, there is no way we [will] become radical, so what he has to deal with is his relationships with the people, not with the pan-democratic legislators."
The Civic Party's Alan Leong endorsed Lee's view, suggesting that listening to the public might be the only way out for the chief executive.
"If he has to earn back the [people's trust], he must listen to the voice of the people and demonstrate that he really is prepared to listen to the needs of the society… and reaffirm our need for democracy and the importance and significance of the rule of law."