Much of our social resentment can be traced to our wealth disparities. The past go-go decade has been grand for our super-rich, but awful for the poor and middle class. We don't want the rich to get poorer. But we need to make the poor less poor and the middle class richer. This will make a fairer society with less acrimony.
By rolling out a series of measures to help the poor, elderly and lower middle class on his first day in our rowdy legislature, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has made a first step in the right direction. The raft of measures includes a HK$2,200 monthly allowance for an estimated 400,000 elderly who qualify for the scheme, HK$350 million to double the HK$500 medical vouchers due to about 700,000 eligible residents, and HK$1 billion to help NGOs build the first batch of a planned 3,000 youth hostel units.
Leung is doing exactly what he said during his election campaign that he would do. So it's mystifying that critics call the measures 'sweeteners' designed to distract the public from the scandals and embarrassments in which he and his administration have been embroiled. 'Sweeteners' are one-off giveaways. The payout measures Leung is introducing are permanent and will be recurring expenditure. They may still be insufficient, but they can be improved if Leung is committed.
Granted, nobody likes Leung, not even many of the old Beijing supporters for whom he was the wrong guy to be elected. In an ideal world, he would not be where he is now. But we are stuck with him for five years. Most pan-democrats look set to follow a nihilist agenda to make sure this government will get nothing done. Many of the traditional pro-Beijingers are happy to fold their arms and enjoy the schadenfreude.
Leung can earn a place in history if he dares to make a grand bargain. With the pan-dems, he needs to declare forthrightly support for universal suffrage in the 2017 and 2020 elections that has been promised, but now fudged, by Beijing. The public has been sold on democracy, and that is the only way to get the support he needs. Otherwise he risks five years of policy paralysis and recriminations.