HK falls out of love with Leung

Hong Kong’s chief executive once embodied the city’s self-made success, but these days he is called "The Wolf".


    As love affairs go, the short fling between Hong Kong and newest leader could count among the shortest. Not even an hour into office and already Hong Kongers were clamouring for their newly inaugurated chief executive to resign. After all, they didn't vote for him in the first place. 

    Leung Chun-ying, or Cy Leung, depending on whether his traditional Chinese name or its Western equivalent is being used, was elected by a select committee of 1,200 sector leaders. The selection committee was comprised of tycoons, professionals and politicians, and some have been described as pro-Beijing elite looking to protect their interests.   

    The committee pushed for Leung, but he wasn't unpopular with ordinary city residents, either. In fact, he personified the "Hong Kong dream".

    From modest beginnings, he burst towards stratospheric heights in a self-made success story. The son of a policeman, Leung was educated in the UK and returned to Hong Kong to become a multi-millionaire property consultant.

    At only 34, he found himself the secretary-general of the committee tasked with drafting the city's post-British constitution after its return to China. Leung was indeed "special", and yet, people felt he was one of them. Despite his current riches, Leung understood what it was like to be less privileged. 

    His ideas were populist, too. He promised to deal with corruption, the widening wealth gap, and solve the housing problems. All issues close to Hong Kongers' hearts. 

    Leung said - and did - all the right things. Although they couldn't elect him directly, people figured he might not be too bad as a leader.  He was the local-boy-done-good, as opposed to the other candidate who was born into privilege and was expected to only perpetuate the elitist rule of the few.  

    At least, that was how it was at the start.

    Leung is now commonly called "The Wolf". He is seen as a crafty character so politically savvy as to actually make more than a few people uncomfortable. 

    Leung dealt with every accusation hurled at him during the campaign and after it without making it look like he was getting his hands dirty. Some people thought watching him get out of tight spots was like viewing an artist at work. But the mud hurled at Leung didn't always wash off. 

    Just a week before his inauguration, questions about illegal extensions on his multi-million dollar home were raised.  This hit Hong Kongers right where it hurt. 

    Many residents have only grown unhappier through the years with their quality of life. One of the main complaints is that they must pay exorbitant amounts for their smaller-than-shoe-box homes.  Now, here was their shiny new leader with extensions allegedly added illegally to an already palatial spread. One of the people? Not quite.

    Even more damaging than that, as far as many Hong Kongers are concerned, is the allegation that Leung is a covert member of mainland China's ruling Communist Party. There is nothing more unsavoury for a large number of the city's seven million residents.  Leung has denied the charge, but few believe him. They see his inauguration as proof of just how much he's under Beijing's thumb. 

    And it didn’t help that Chinese president Hu Jintao was in attendance.

    "It looked like something straight out of the mainland," one Hong Konger said with disdain. Many were put off at the event by the colours, the flowers, the rigidity, the language, in sum, the carefully stage-managed execution of it all. 

    Many Hong Kongers fear that instead of getting the universal suffrage they were promised by 2017, they might just be one leader closer to full "assimilation" with the dreaded mainland.

    Full "reunification" with China is something city residents resist.

    As far as they are concerned, it would mean the loss of their identity as a "more liberal, more cultured, and better educated" lot.  A local survey released a few days ago even showed that Hong Kongers would rather have Western partners than ones from mainland China precisely because of such preconceptions. 

    So how will this rollercoaster love story end? Everywhere Leung goes now, he is mobbed and jeered, and Hong Kong is still in search of a hero.



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