Leung Chun-ying adds to Hong Kong’s burden with his legacy of mistrust and division
Alice Wu says the problem of having a chief executive who pledged to rebuild community ties while doing a good job of destroying them will continue to haunt us long after his tenure ends
There are less than three months left in the Leung Chun-ying administration, but it will take a lot more time to deal with its aftermath.
On top of the deep-rooted social problems that persist, we will also have to deal with the more challenging problems of Leung’s legacy, first and foremost the problem of “political dissonance”.
While campaigning, Leung sold himself as the everyman candidate. He wore his humble beginnings as a badge of honour, and ran with a “solemn” pledge to uphold the rule of law, improve governance and promote democracy.
As chief-executive elect, he told Time magazine that community building and bridging divides were his priority. Yet, at the height of the Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests, he made known his open contempt for democracy and the poor. In an interview with foreign media, the would-be community-builder said: “If it’s entirely a numbers game ... then obviously you’d be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.” This is the sort of dissonance Leung has given us.
Let the record show that this was the sort of “goodwill” Leung showed ahead of his government’s talk with student protest leaders. Unfathomable as it may be, “I have promised to be a ‘chief executive for the people’” is still up on his office’s website.
Leung has proved that a divisive figure who aims to build bridges is, in the end, a contradiction and a delusion. A divisive figure, by their nature, cannot build bridges. One simply cannot build a community – which means bringing people from different social strata together – if one clearly despises a whole segment of people who earn less than HK$14,000. A divisive figure even in the pro-establishment camp, he has made moderation irrelevant in a polarised political environment.
Some may have questioned the hate that permeates the “ABC” (Anyone But CY) faction but, to be fair, Leung has done little to discourage it. “Hate” is a strong word, but the ill-will his opponents have shown has been fully returned by Leung. The disaffection is mutual.
Insultingly, the community spirit – the sense of common fate and common destiny – that Leung had once hoped to build did indeed occur: on the streets of Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.
Before Leung took office, he said the most challenging issue facing the government was “disengagement with the people”. That was true then, and remains true now.
Leung cannot feign ignorance. People are disenfranchised, he said, “because they don’t vote, they are disengaged because we don’t talk to them, and we don’t listen, not directly. There is a sense of being disowned, and therefore, there’s a deep sense of distrust.”
He said at that time that he wanted “re-engage with the people”. But whatever happened to the notebook, pen and folding chair he took with him into communities during his campaign? Leung wasn’t dealt a bad hand. To cause an Ikea stuffed toy to sell out in stores takes agency.
The Leung legacy – the legacy of polarisation, contempt and cynicism – is not only inherited by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, but hangs over Hong Kong relations with Beijing just as we get ready to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover. Luckily for Lam, 55 per cent of respondents of a recent survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme say they believe she will do a better job than her predecessor. There is hope, perhaps – it is spring, after all.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA