Can you CY he’s the boss?
The inauguration of Chief Executive-elect CY Leung is but a few days away. Shirley Zhao looks at what the future will be like under our new boss – but finds out that no-one really has a clue
It’s a time for change in Hong Kong. The election was a dramatic affair, where Henry Tang, once everyone’s sure bet, lost in spectacular fashion. But all that’s history now. On July 1, Leung Chun-ying, widely dubbed as ‘wolf’, becomes our Chief Executive, the man to shape Hong Kong’s future.
Although not voted in by Hong Kong’s seven million residents, CY, as he’s affectionately known, has already adopted a populist approach. Over past weeks he’s been vowing to address the city’s most heated social issues like the Mainland mother controversy, housing issues, elderly poverty and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Fairly hopeful Hongkongers also expect him to tackle environmental problems like our deteriorating air quality.
But according to polls devised by the University of Hong Kong, although Leung’s rating bounced back up to 49 percent in the first week of June, it was still seven points lower than a month before, when it reached a peak of 56 percent. The team that handles the polls believes the drop was due to his ‘more ambiguous attitudes’ toward some ‘universal values’ which the city treasures, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
To give his popularity rating a quick boost, it is widely believed that tackling the housing problem in Hong Kong will be one of Leung’s top priorities after his inauguration, since the city has seen its property prices skyrocket over recent years. According to Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, in March the housing prices were 82 percent higher than in late 2008, surpassing the 1997 peak by 10 percent.
In his platform, Leung attempts to provide solutions like increasing land supply, resuming public housing projects and restricting foreign investments to help the poor and middle classes, as well as preventing the property market from overheating. It’s almost a shout out for the people. But it could affect the city’s investors and property owners who see the real estate market as paramount. It could also lose sway with our tycoons, who have, of course, massive influence over the city – and, on the whole, strongly backed Leung’s rival during the election.
However, Shih Wing-ching, a founder of Centaline Property Agency, remains optimistic that property prices won’t sharply decrease and land won’t suddenly appear once Leung is at the helm. “It’s very difficult to increase a lot of land in a short time,” he says, “because it involves reclamation, resumption and rezoning. None of those are easy.”
According to Shih, the government can only increase a small amount of land at a time – and if Leung’s team uses the bulk for public housing, which is normally restricted to families with a monthly income under $30,000, the private housing sector, which aims at people with higher incomes, will not be largely affected.
Shih tells Time Out that last year, less than 10,000 flats were available in the private market, while the number of new families with a monthly income of over $30,000 was more than three times larger. And Shih predicts that such conditions of demand and supply in the private market won’t change much in the foreseeable future. He admits that it will be beneficial to allow the housing to be more affordable. “By supplying more housing and making the prices a bit lower, people will have more chances to afford their own homes. I can’t see why it’s not a good way to make the society better,” he says.
But it all depends on whether Leung carries out his promises. Shih may have confidence in him but some scholars are sceptical that he can gather enough support from related sectors and fill his cabinet with capable officials.
“CY Leung is a loner,” says Ivan Choy Chi-keung, senior instructor at the Department of Government and Public Administration in the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Unlike Tung Chee-hwa, who was supported by the pro-Beijing industrial and commercial sectors, or Donald Tsang, who was favoured by civil servants, there is a lack of trust between Leung and those groups.”
Among the individuals who, it’s believed, will head the different departments in Leung’s forthcoming administration, there are quite a few new faces who are not traditional civil servants as seen in previous administrations. They are being labelled as inexperienced and incapable by critics.
True, it’s common for new leaders in democratic regimes to appoint fresh faces from their own political circles as officials – but Choy thinks our system is different, as our Chief Executives can’t belong to a particular party. “I think Leung’s cabinet is not convincing. He hasn’t worked with them before and I can’t see they share the same ideology as him. He may wish to tackle some social issues but I doubt he’ll have a strong administration to carry his policies through,” says Choy.
While only time will tell if Leung’s administration will be strong enough, it seems he wants to convince dissatisfied Hongkongers that he’s the man who will bring change by building his image as a determined, ‘strong man-style’ leader. This image, according to Legislative Councillor Alan Leong Kah-kit, is beginning to push local politicians to either of two extremes, as seen in the recent debate of his much controversial government revamp plan. “We proposed to work on the reasonable details of his plan first and take the more controversial part out to public consultation,” says Leong, also leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party, “but he wouldn’t listen. He wants to push the whole thing through as soon as possible. That tends to be even less efficient and constructive, and will force the lawmakers to either sit completely in line with him or resort to filibuster tactics.”
Democrats also fear that Leung’s early-day aggression is a sign he could try to push through other controversial proposals like Article 23, criticised as a law to control freedoms. Critics are deeply concerned the article is a ‘political task’ which Beijing has bestowed upon him – though, in his defence, he has publically denied it.
Former Legislative Councillor Gary Cheng Kai-nam sees it differently. He believes an administration without the backing of any political party will be weak, so a leader must be strong to make changes. “If he follows the old rules, his administration will end up like the old ones – but that’s not what people want. People support him because they want change, so change they will get. It’s time to put him to the test.”
Interestingly, neither supporters or sceptics are sure about what the future will be like under Leung’s leadership. “You could always tell what Donald Tsang or Henry Tang would do in leading Hong Kong,” says Cheng, “but with Leung you have no idea. You can hope for change – but you don’t know what the result will be. So the only thing you can do is let him try.”
Perhaps that’s what makes Leung’s inauguration an exciting affair.