It wasn’t supposed to start like this.
On his first full day in the job, Hong Kong’s newly appointed Chief Executive convened a town hall meeting in Tuen Mun. He has promised to visit each of the 18 districts that make up this nation. CY Leung was the first Chief Executive to host an open forum. Past sessions had been led by lower-level government bureaucrats.
Problem was, that an open forum means it was open. To the public. And some members of the public don’t like the new Chief Executive.
Just on Sunday people gathered to mark the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China. Only problem was they weren’t there to celebrate. In true Hong Kong fashion tens of thousands gathered in protest. And in true Hong Kong fashion police estimated 63,000 attendees while organisers estimated 400,000. We do love a good protest in Hong Kong! (See my earlier post on FacingChina.me.)
There was even a case on Sunday where protesters covered a police motorcycle in stickers and handbills and protests and placards.
Oh – and Hu Jintao flew back to China after three days on Sunday. On his first day here the President of China conducted an inspection of the troops of the People’s Liberation Army stationed here in Hong Kong. The open top truck with the senior leader driving past gathered troops was very “Kim Jong-Il-esque.”
Amid all this simmering (and bubbling) tension the new Chief Executive strode off to meet the people. Dressed in an orange polo shirt he started well with his commitment to a more equitable form of government. But soon opposing views filled the air and protesters filled the room. Our new Chief Executive was hustled from the meeting by security guards and holed up in an ante-room for an hour until they could coordinate his escape.
It is an ignoble start for a new ruler. Leung was a much-loved alternative candidate to the pro-Beijing alternative Henry Tang. And his election was an old-style one where he worked the phones and the press and the meetings to garner as many votes as possible. He was seen as a viable and different leader.
But in the past few weeks that love has soured as details of a series of illegal structures at his residence came to light. Leung professed ignorance, said it was previous owners, and asked for more time. In a crisis you never get more time.
It’s most likely that CY Leung is the highest profile scapegoat for a city’s frustrations. The economy is under-performing. Income inequality is at its highest ever. Housing prices have increased 80% in the last three years. And as of Sunday we’re only 35 years from full integration with China.
Perhaps the single biggest mistake Leung made was to start a listening tour so soon after widespread national protests. He should have allowed more time to pass before meeting in public forums. Yet now that one has been upset and shown to embarrass the Chief Executive, future meetings will no doubt be targeted.
CY Leung needs to find a new way to hear the complaints and issues affecting the citizens. And he has to do so in a way that won’t create damaging front page headlines.