Three years into his stewardship of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying has failed to deliver on almost all of his election promises and is hard put to address some of the most serious problems.
But three years ago, he was riding high on a wave of popular support from the grassroots, professionals and young people, especially during the closing days of the campaign.
Some high-profile figures including Ho Hei-wah, a leader of charitable groups, and Lam Chiu-ying former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, were on Leung’s campaign.
Leung’s humble family background was a stark contrast to the privileged circumstances of his opponent, former chief secretary Henry Tang.
But Leung’s self-made success inspired countless young people.
More than 70 percent of college students backed his candidacy, according to a survey at the time by the Chinese University School of Journalism.
Now those who bet on him are beside themselves with regret. I wonder how they must feel as their erstwhile champion becomes a bigger disappointment by the day.
Poverty and the housing problem have worsened. Runaway home prices are deepening the socio-economic gap. And soaring rents are dehumanizing the poorest members of society.
A recent survey shows that the average rent in 100 private estates has risen to HK$33 per square foot, setting records three months in a row.
At that level, a 300 sq. ft. flat will cost HK$10,000 (US$1,289) to rent, equivalent to the average monthly wage of a fresh college graduate.
Worse, the share of rental transactions on flats below HK$10,000 has dropped to less than 10 percent, a new low since the start of the survey in 1998.
Curiously, smaller flats and subdivided units cost more to rent per square foot than regular apartments. That means low-income people are the hardest hit.
Leung’s failings are hardly confined to housing.
Take the proposed third airport runway, for instance.
Leung’s government unilaterally decided to build it without going through the legislative budget approval process and over the objections of experts from different sectors including the aviation industry and environmental groups.
The funding plan, which includes ploughing profit back to the Airport Authority for the next 10 years — which means no money going to government coffers — is a spending spree not subject to oversight by the legislature.
We need hardly mention that the government’s treatment of issues over airspace rights and aviation safety smacks of arrogance in the face of widespread public concern.
This kind of attitude pervades other social issues. Ironically, these issues were front and center of his election campaign, winning supporters from the healthcare, accountancy and professional constituencies that turned into votes on the election committee.
It’s fair to say they have lost faith in him.
Leung has also alienated students with his repeated attempts to introduce national education in many guises.
Much of the work is carried out by the Commission on Youth, mainly comprised of second-generation members of the Hong Kong elite.
Leung’s complete allegiance to Beijing on political reform, his attempts to suppress last year’s democracy protests and a political purge targeting University of Hong Kong academics and student activists have made him an enemy of young people.
Also, Leung’s government appointments are thinly disguised cronyism which flies in the face of his election slogan “there is no Leung camp, nor Tang camp but a Hong Kong camp”.
Which is why Leung has been losing friends in liberal and business circles including James Tien, former chairman of the Liberal Party.
During an appearance in the Legislative Council last week, he sparked an angry backlash when he reinterpreted universal suffrage according to its legal requirements, saying it is genuine as long as it conforms to the constitution and the laws of society.
Many Hongkongers will tell you that Leung’s version of genuine universal suffrage is a sham.
In two years, when Leung is expected to seek a second term, his 2012 supporters will have overcome “buyer’s remorse”, but they surely will not make the same mistake.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 30.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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