Mr Tung Chee-hwa will begin his second term as Chief Executive a more seasoned politician who will need all the political skills acquired during the past five years to face the testing time ahead. Across a broad range of political and economic issues, Mr Tung is confronted by unresolved and lingering problems which have plagued passages of his first historic term. The aftershocks of the Asian crisis and the slide of the US economy have left a trail of damage locally. Politi-cally, he is confronted by strident opposition within the local legislature and the overriding and highly sensitive issue of relations with Beijing conducted within the framework of the 'one country, two systems' formula. There is a strong body of opinion that Mr Tung will deal with these issues in a more confident manner during his second term, having sharpened his political tactics while making the transition from businessman to politician after the handover of Hong Kong's sovereignty from Britain to China in June 1997. People close to him say he is clearly relishing the prospect of facing a fresh five years to complete many of the tasks he set for himself when he assumed office. His first indications of how he plans to refine his public image to shore up his support in Hong Kong, which in recent months fell sharply, came during a television interview earlier this week which gave Mr Tung the opportunity to cast a more caring and sensitive persona to the public. 'I hope our future generations will say: [Hong Kong] is now back [to the motherland.] You have laid down a very sound foundation for our road map in the future,' Mr Tung said. He added: 'I outlined a vision of Hong Kong in the 21st century when I declared my candidacy in 1996. Hong Kong should be a society that is stable, just and democratic with a loving heart and sense of direction. 'We should, on one hand, encourage the spirit of self-reliance and versatility and, on the other hand, take care of the old and the weak,' he said. 'Hong Kong people will be more affluent, better educated about knowledge and manners. We feel proud of our new identity and our roots. We position ourselves in Hong Kong with the motherland behind us and reach out to the world.' But the crossover from business to the public arena has not been easy. A prominent businessman known for salvaging the shipping empire built up by his father Tung Chao-yung when it was on the brink of collapse, Mr Tung emerged on the political scene as a 'dark horse' in the early stages of the first Chief Executive elections in 1996. Enjoying the blessings of Beijing, and successful in projecting the image of an honest and committed leader, Mr Tung scored an impressive victory in the four-man race in late 1996. It was also a good time for Hong Kong, which was experiencing an economic boom buoyed by a robust property market. Long before being formally sworn in on July 1, 1997, the first SAR chief had identified three priority issues. Three of his top advisers - Antony Leung Kam-chung, Leung Chun-ying and Tam Yiu-chung - were given the task of formulating long-term strategies in education, housing and welfare for the elderly. Mr Tung announced long-term plans to boost home ownership to 70 per cent by 2007 and supply 85,000 flats every year, and reforms were introduced to address several education issues, ranging from the teaching medium and the school allocation system to examination assessment. While efforts to improve welfare benefits for the elderly have been welcomed by most people, Mr Tung's initiatives in housing and education have received as much criticism as praise. In the face of a sharp fall in property prices and enormous pressure from tycoons, Mr Tung gently dropped the controversial housing target only to further infuriate the sector and anger negative-equity flat-owners. Mr Tung's zeal for reform suffered a severe blow in 1999 when thousands of civil servants took to the streets to call for a halt to civil service reform. An attempt to overhaul the financing of health services failed following a cool public reaction to suggestions by a group of Harvard scholars for a mandatory insurance scheme. In contrast to the mixed reactions to his domestic policy programme, Mr Tung has won praise for his sensitive handling of relations with the mainland. Despite a series of controversies, such as the re-entry of spy-case scholar Li Shaomin from the United States and Falun Gong activities, Mr Tung has succeeded in securing a win-win situation. In both cases, he struck a delicate balance over seemingly conflicting interests between the SAR and the central government. The high degree of trust and support he has from central leaders is seen as one of Mr Tung's strongest assets. Having the ears of Beijing becomes increasingly important as Hong Kong strives for greater economic integration with the mainland. Hit by a 'double dip' economic downturn following the Asian financial crisis and the September 11 events, the territory is in desperate need of a stimulus to its ailing economy. Expectations are high that local entrepreneurs will be able to make the most of its proximity and intimate ties with the mainland to take the biggest share of the booming Chinese economy. Efforts to initiate discussion on a free trade area arrangement across the border and harmonise infrastructure developments in the Pearl River Delta region have made a good start in the past year. Beijing's praise for Mr Tung and support for his second term were in sharp contrast, however, to the level of frustration and disappointment shown by many in the community over prospects of 'another five years under Tung'. Some angry callers to a radio phone-in programme said they held no hopes for a better tomorrow under Mr Tung's leadership, or rather lack of it. His popularity ratings, which had picked up recently following his re-election speeches and campaigning, slipped again in the latest University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme survey. No one can say that the next five years will be easy. But Hong Kong now has a far more experienced Chief Executive who has a deep commitment to its people. His success in improving their lives will also greatly enhance his chances of being remembered after he leaves office in five years as the man who steered the SAR through one of its most difficult chapters in a new and historic role.