CITY BEAT
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Chaos or connections, the show goes on

Chief executive realises protests are unavoidable but will not give up plans to seek people's views

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 5:20am

Political shows or reaching out to the people? Unfortunately the line is becoming more and more blurred in today's Hong Kong.

Getting in touch with the people - through town hall meetings; shaking hands in the streets; kissing babies; or dining in the local cha chaan teng can be regarded as good ways for senior officials to get a direct line to the people, but at the same time, they can also be seen as a kind of political spin.

It just depends on how different people perceive it.

But as protesters now tend to follow officials wherever they go, it is easy for the media to focus on any clashes or chaos if confrontations occur, and the event itself could be neglected or forgotten. The whole thing becomes a "show". A political public relations show to some, or a protest show to those with different views.

So yesterday, when Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying started the first in a series of summer "reaching to the people" programmes by meeting residents in the New Territories town of Tin Shui Wai - once labelled a "city of sadness" - to learn more about their living conditions, it became, as expected, an event with two meanings.

Leung said he came to "listen" to public views without any pre-set agenda. He must have been encouraged by the understanding and support he got from many participants, although they also complained about various livelihood issues. However, his political opponents, including certain radical groups, protested as planned and accused Leung of staging a "show".

The point here is: do we or do we not want our officials, including the chief executive, to "go down to the districts" to meet people directly? Will this achieve any substantial goals if these meetings turn in chaos?

While protests are seen as natural in a society as free as ours, these "encounters" have now become confrontational.

Leung, who kept saying how enjoyable it was to meet the people and get their feedback during the chief executive election campaign, found himself facing a completely different situation once he became the city's leader. And why? He was no longer just running for the top job, he was the man people expect to provide strong and efficient leadership and whose political opponents would use every opportunity to oppose him. It is just that simple.

Aides have advised Leung to be very selective and cautious or even to refrain from arranging more outreach activities if he wants to secure something substantial from the meetings.

People close to him warned him meetings with local people would end up just being a show if they got out of control and did not meet their intended aims.

Leung and his team found themselves in a dilemma: to go out or not to go out? After careful consideration, he decided he would take this summer to continue to "reach out". Tin Shui Wai was his first stop.

Some say the chief executive can gather public opinion through the hundreds of government advisory bodies, through district councils and NGOs, from the Legislative Council, as well as various opinion polls. But, none of these can match direct meetings between officials and the public.

Leung realises protests are unavoidable, but he obviously does not want to give up meeting people in the streets to avoid the unavoidable.

So is this a vicious cycle? Leung insists on meeting people directly despite protests, believing it is not a show; in return, protesters giving him more radical responses accuse him of putting on show; so is that a show or not a show?

This summer the heat is on in the political arena, as Leung will continue having more direct meetings with the public. But the public, especially the local residents, want to express their views or grievances, and do not want to see these meetings become shows of whatever type.