Lawmaker Mak Kwok-fung was at a loss after about one hour of question time for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in the Legislative Council last Thursday - his first since the July 1 mass rally. The nursing and health-care constituency representative said: 'I don't quite get what you mean. There is a vast space between our wavelengths.' Mr Mak was referring to Mr Tung's failure to come to grips with the public demand for an independent inquiry into the Sars outbreak. The pro-democracy legislator's sentiment would not have been lost on people who feel increasingly disconnected and disenchanted with their leader. This is despite Mr Tung's repeated remarks that the protest by half a million people against him and his administration had been thought-provoking. On Thursday, he said the demonstration had reminded him of the immense importance of a people-based and listening government. 'No matter how correct we think our policies are, we cannot take it for granted that people will accept them. We must listen to them,' he said. Mr Tung's acknowledgement was in line with his first detailed response to the July shockwave through the government, triggered by the rally and aggravated by the resignation of two senior ministers - Antony Leung Kam-chung and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. Speaking at a press conference on July 17, Mr Tung vowed to improve governance through measures including reopening consultation on the Article 23 security legislation; holding regular dialogue with political parties and community groups; and widening channels for public discussion on policies. Soon after that, the National Security Bill was shelved indefinitely. A group of pro-democracy legislators was among the dozens of groups invited by Mr Tung to give their views. In a departure from previous practice, Mr Tung stopped by to chat with petitioners outside the Central Government Offices. For the first time, he has made (an unpublicised) visit to find out the real-life situation in Sham Shui Po. The political crisis has been eased. Popularity ratings of Mr Tung and the government have gradually bottomed out. Confidence has been boosted by a series of economic aid measures adopted by Beijing, ranging from a detailed blueprint on a free-trade accord to further relaxation of 'individual visits' by mainlanders to Hong Kong. But political pundits believe the crisis is far from over. Lau Siu-kai, a top adviser to Mr Tung, admitted public discontent remained strong. 'Like dried wood, it is highly inflammable. Some unpredicted events could trigger large-scale conflicts. Society is full of elements of political and economic conflict,' said Professor Lau, who heads the Central Policy Unit. He was not more specific. But there is no doubt the row over the Central reclamation project is indicative of the political predicament of the Tung administration. Referring to the government's dilemma over the reclamation dispute, a senior minister said: 'All these issues have to be seen from the broader context: we are a weak government.' Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, a prominent political scientist at the City University, observed that the government did not appear to be under firm and effective leadership. 'Mr Tung has been almost invisible recently,' he said. 'He has kept silent on controversial issues such as the reclamation row. 'Before July 1, he could count on support from the DAB (Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong) and the Central Government's Liaison Office. With the election year nearing, the DAB has to readjust its strategy. Inside the cabinet, he has become isolated after the departure of Antony Leung. 'He knows he doesn't understand politics. How can he pick up the pieces if he is still ignorant about politics? If there is a will, he will still be able to initiate major changes by, for instance, redefining his role. I don't think he is aware of the need of change. 'He has a lot of mental blocks. He's been very conservative. But being conservative does not necessarily mean indecisive.' Professor Cheung noted it was clear that Beijing had taken a more proactive approach in dealing with Hong Kong issues. 'Mr Tung has clearly been marginalised by Beijing,' he said. Ma Lik, a local deputy of the National People's Congress, said Beijing should be given the credit for stabilising Hong Kong's economic and political scene through the economic aid measures. 'People do not feel a strong determination by the government to improve governance,' he said. 'The government does not seem to have a sense of direction. People would like to know what the government is going to do.' Mr Ma, also a vice-chairman of the DAB, cited the setting up of a fund for Sars victims as an issue in which Mr Tung could show leadership and respond to the aspirations of the people. (The government on Friday announced a $130 million trust fund for Sars victims.) 'The worst thing is that nobody seems to know what you are doing even though you keep saying you have been working very hard,' he said. Tung adviser Professor Lau admitted the public had yet to find the changes of the Tung administration impressive. 'We can only make incremental changes,' he said. 'We are not talking about revolution. But isn't the shelving of Article 23 a major change? How about his meeting with the Democrats? It was initiated by Mr Tung. 'The fact is the opposition force has and will seize every opportunity to undermine the authority of the SAR government ... This is all political struggle is about.' Shiu Sin-por, executive director of the One Country Two Systems Economic Institute, said the Tung administration had adopted the strategy of 'making no change to cope with the changes', hoping that the overall political and economic atmosphere would gradually improve. But with or without the July 1 shock, he was adamant the machinery of government was no longer able to govern effectively in the face of challenges from the legislature, the media and society. 'Take the Rolling Stones case,' Mr Shiu said. 'What's the big deal? This sort of thing [confusion over whether shows are going ahead] happens quite often in the entertainment business. But the government dares not to vigorously defend itself. Populist politics have prevailed.' Mr Shiu said he had talked to Mr Tung regularly and had suggested ways to strengthen his governance through measures such as beefing up the public relations machinery. 'For various reasons, he didn't take drastic actions,' Mr Shiu said. Mr Ma warned that the political crisis sparked on July 1 was far from over. 'If the present situation continues, people will feel disappointed. The emergence of another major crisis is only a matter of time,' he said. Putting on a brave face to calls for him to stand down, Mr Tung told legislators on Thursday of his will to stay on to accomplish his unfinished mission, right the wrongs and do a better job. 'At this critical moment of economic transformation, it would be irresponsible if I do any other things [other than staying on],' he responded to the last question from The Frontier's Emily Lau Wai-hing. Soon after questions, five petitioners from an 'anti-Tung' coalition were asked to leave the gallery after they showed T-shirts bearing big Chinese characters: 'Tung Chee-hwa step down'. Referring to the slight increase in the popularity ratings of Mr Tung in recent weeks, Professor Cheung said: 'Don't be misled by the polls. The political sentiments of people are quite unstable. Public trust in the government remains very low. They don't care what the government is doing. But if they found their interests are at stake, they would come out and speak up. The government has become a lame duck at a much earlier time. 'I found myself increasingly anti-Tung,' said the former vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, who is known as a moderate.