After months of divisive campaigning, Hong Kong has a new leader. Leung Chun-ying's victory spared Hong Kong another round of politically charged polling to elect a chief executive. But his low level of support on the Election Committee and in the community means he is in for a difficult five years. Leung did not win a comfortable majority. Indeed, weeks ago, few believed he could win. His record-low vote share of less than 58 per cent makes him the weakest leader-in-waiting. He defeated Henry Tang Ying-yen by 689 votes to 285. Albert Ho Chun-yan got 76 votes; 143 of the 1,193 electors boycotted the ballot or cast blank or invalid votes. With his public popularity having fallen from a peak of over 50 per cent to a new low of 35 per cent, Leung will begin his five-year term on July 1 with a weak mandate. The 17.8 per cent support he received in a mock poll is a clear warning. More than 120,000 of the 222,990 who cast their ballots voted for none of the candidates in a protest against the electoral system and Beijing's apparent interference in yesterday's election. Had there been a popular vote, it could have been inconclusive. Difficulties ahead The immediate challenge facing Leung is daunting. He has to bridge an unprecedented political divide arising from the cutthroat race between the two pro-establishment camps. He will be judged on his willingness and ability to win support from different sectors. That requires tolerance, reconciliation and mutual understanding. Unity is essential. Leung has to show he is capable of rallying the community behind him. The chief executive-elect is aware of the difficulties ahead. In his victory speech, Leung sensibly took a conciliatory approach. He spoke of his shortcomings, called for unity and pledged to uphold Hong Kong's core values. The assurances should be welcome. While we need a strong leader who can win over sceptics with concrete actions, he has to show he is prepared to listen. This is especially important given his perceived iron-fisted management style. It is imperative he reach out; it is the only way his call for unity can be answered. Inclusiveness is key. Leung is taking over at a time when confidence in clean and capable government has been undermined. The distrust and despair Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's alleged acceptance of advantages has engendered is likely to make Leung's job all the harder. The core values and strength that set Hong Kong apart from its neighbours have been undermined. The political environment is not conducive to a new leader. While perceptions of Leung's integrity will be affected by the outcome of a Legco inquiry into his alleged conflict of interest in a 2001 arts hub design contest, it may be unrealistic to expect a swift rebound in public trust. Yet the new administration cannot afford to have a leader handicapped by distrust. There is a need to complete the investigation, and put controversies to rest, as soon as possible. Restoring unity, trust and confidence should be high on Leung's agenda. Resolute leadership The role Leung will play in relations with Beijing is also a sensitive issue. Like his predecessors, he is expected to function as a bridge. While constitutionally accountable to Beijing, he has to defend Hong Kong's interests and speak up for its people when necessary. Unconfirmed reports of Beijing and its local liaison office canvassing votes for Leung have prompted concerns about whether he will stand up for Hong Kong if its interests conflict with the central government's. Asked about these reports yesterday, Leung appeared evasive. Those who hoped he would take an unequivocal stance may find his reply disappointing. The first test for Leung is to put in place a strong ruling team, one that instils public confidence in his leadership. It is important for him to be seen as capable of engaging the right calibre of people to work under his leadership and able to tap the expertise of rival camps to work for the public good. Support from the civil service is important. The poor working relationship between former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and the civil service is a good reminder of the need to secure solid support from this 160,000-strong team. Without it, Leung will be unable to deliver on his election promises or govern effectively. During the campaign, he put forward proposals to enhance housing supply, education, health care financing and the city's competitiveness - all issues close to people's hearts. He would be well advised to renew public debate on his proposals and set priorities. To achieve good results, Leung must demonstrate resolute leadership and be prepared to make political trade-offs where necessary. Yesterday's vote is expected to be the last 'small-circle' election. As the mock ballot's outcome showed, the mudslinging and alleged interference have apparently provoked the public and strengthened their desire for genuine universal suffrage. Thankfully, this should not be far off. The ballot to choose the chief executive in 2017 will be based on one person, one vote. Understandably, how to achieve election by universal suffrage for the chief executive and Legislative Council will be difficult, and this falls squarely on Leung's shoulders. An early start on the road map will smooth the way. Strong political will and skills are needed to forge a public consensus on the way forward. Our future depends on how well the new chief executive can lead Hong Kong to take on the challenges ahead. It is now time to unite and drive the city forward together.