Who in their right mind would want to be Hong Kong’s next leader?

Yonden Lhatoo says Leung Chun-ying’s experience shows the city’s next chief executive is in for a world of pain in a highly polarised and politicised climate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 6:32pm

The more I look at our chief executive’s face on television or in newspapers these days, the more I want to ask him, in all sincerity: dude, is it really worth it?

I mean, seriously, Leung Chun-ying looks gaunter, greyer and grimmer than ever.

I remember how he bowed a lot that day in July 2012, when a small-circle election installed him as Hong Kong’s top official. These days, all I see is an increasingly stooped version of our fearless leader scurrying past angry protesters wherever he goes.

Otherwise, it’s only pained smiles in the spotlight and foot in mouth when confronted by the media pack, which is armed to the teeth with awkward questions.

I neither want to attack nor defend Leung in this column. I just want to take a step back and look at the man we’ve seen so far in the context of what this town has become. And why he, or anyone else, would want his job.

It should have been good for Hong Kong when Leung defeated former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who was a shoo-in for the top job back then until the massive illegal basement unearthed at his house buried his ambition. With Tang in charge, it would have been like the business-as-usual years under Leung’s predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen – cosy ties with big business, tycoons calling all the shots, and a total reluctance to rock a boat full of ailing policies.

It was different with Leung, but not enough to prevent the dark horse from morphing into the dark lord in the eyes of many Hongkongers. Doubts about his integrity as well as his loyalty to Hong Kong have never faded.

Faux-populist or not, Leung did start off with a people-before-profit approach, and he has made some bold moves to please Hongkongers at the risk of upsetting local billionaires and mainlanders.

Now he’s the most divisive figure in the city, no matter how well meant his intentions. In a polarised society and politically poisonous atmosphere, he can never win. No matter what he brings to the table, somebody overturns it right away.

And it’s taking a toll on his family. Just look at the latest brouhaha over the matter of his younger daughter asking for her parents’ help when she left her baggage behind and they tried to have it delivered to her at the boarding gate.

Did the first couple abuse their power, bully airport staff and ride roughshod over security protocol? They say they didn’t, but 2,000 or more people disagreed strongly enough to amplify their discontent, politicised or not, to a global arena at the city’s airport.

Now the daughter has been tailed by reporters at her university overseas. Give them a break. The elder daughter’s run-ins with the media were bad enough. Involving these two young women in the constant abuse directed at their father is not transparency – it’s shameful harassment and serves no public interest.

Which brings me back to the burning question: why in seven hells, after this kind of trauma, would Leung want to run for a second term? He hasn’t confirmed he will, but it looks like he may.

Is he a sucker for punishment, numbed by ambition or under unrelenting pressure to continue from the people who put him in power? Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, quit the job when he couldn’t handle it any more. If there was any shame in it, Tung got over it, and he’s a respected elder statesman now.

Apart from Leung, why would anyone want his job? Look how ugly the public mood has become. The next chief executive is in for a whole new world of pain.

Sounds hopeless, doesn’t it? It’s like watching a train wreck that I’d only wish upon Donald Trump.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post