Donald Tsang
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Leung must decide if he is with Exco, or against it

Donald Tsang

In my last column, I suggested that Leung Chun-ying should resign from the Executive Council because he has been relentlessly criticising government policy, undercutting its authority. I still believe it is best that he steps down. That would protect the council's integrity and allow him to speak freely in future.

Leung responded swiftly at the weekend, making it clear that he had no intention of leaving Exco and denying that he had criticised the administration. Leung published an article last week in the quarterly Hong Kong Journal, an American online publication, saying that the government had failed to address worsening social problems, thus alienating most of the population.

My point is that, being the convenor of the non-official members of Exco, Leung is a core member of Hong Kong's cabinet and, as such, should be seen to be defending, rather than denigrating, the administration. In fact, Leung has a history of challenging government policies. From the minimum wage to the widening wealth gap, he has been attacking the government for a lack of foresight in tackling social issues. His rogue behaviour has not only embarrassed the chief executive and his administration, it has also breached the rule of collective responsibility for Exco members, who must publicly support government policies.

But, as I said earlier, I don't believe Leung is truly anti-government per se. He is merely using social issues to increase his profile and popularity to build up firepower for the 2012 chief executive election.

To be honest, it doesn't matter whether Leung is for or against the government, the main focus now should be: what are the desired qualities in our next chief executive?

First and foremost, the candidate must have the blessing of the central government. Second, he should have widespread public support.

We all remember former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, who faced many problems and became highly unpopular towards the end of his second term. He resigned in March 2005, citing health reasons.

After those seven tumultuous years of Tung's governance, the central government finally came to realise that, to effectively rule Hong Kong, the chief executive must gain the trust and support of the public. The Beijing leadership knew that the public would almost certainly be suspicious of anyone from the ranks of the super-rich business elite, like Tung.

When Donald Tsang Yam-kuen took over in 2005, he enjoyed overwhelming public support of more than 70 per cent, a stark contrast to the much-detested Tung. Many had high hopes for Tsang; he was perceived to be an approachable and decisive leader. When he ran against democrat Alan Leong Kah-kit in the 2007 chief executive election, he showed precise leadership in the election campaign, reaching out to the community to gain their trust and support.

This explains why the typically discreet Leung has become more high profile in the political arena in the last two years. Understandably, he is trying to build up a popular image, garnering public support to gain political leverage to prepare for the 2012 election.

Leung would do well to remember that a true leader has to be inspiring, dedicated and credible. He also has to have the ability to relate to his audience to gain their commitment and trust. More importantly, he must have enough backbone to admit his faults and be responsible for his words and actions.

I am not trying to push Leung out of Exco. But, if he wants to continue to speak out against the government, it's better for him to do so without the Exco baggage. Leung cannot treat the administration like his enemy and expect to be welcome.

You can't have your cake and eat it. The public will find out sooner or later if anyone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. If Leung wants to be a leader, he must act like one.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]