The Standard mentions the very muted murmurings that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung might be on the way out. What better way to develop the murmurings into a full-fledged rumour than to print a story about an anonymous official denying it? There are also a few whispers going round that would suggest, to put it delicately, that one or two people identified with CY have started to get a bit nervous lest they find themselves on the wrong side of the fence sometime in the future.
If there’s something vaguely familiar about all this, it could be from mid-2000 when our local tycoons were mounting a ‘dump Tung Chee-hwa’ campaign. It’s not that they were going round publicly demanding that the luckless first Chief Executive step down; it’s that they weren’t saying the opposite. This telling lack of endorsement led Chinese government officials to summon all our favourite property developers and other plutocrats to a hall in Beijing, where then-President Jiang Zemin gave them a severe talking to. If you see Li Ka-shing, the Kwoks, Lee Shau-kee and the rest all sheepishly boarding a chartered Dragonair flight in the coming months, history will be repeating itself.
The situation is worse this time around because it’s so personal. The tycoons didn’t hate the crop-haired one; they were angry that property prices had collapsed before they had managed to sell all their overpriced half-built apartments to the suckers. But they seriously loathe CY.
Back in the 1990s, US President Bill Clinton’s wife Hilary blamed the accusations and scandals surrounding her husband on a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’. Some of his problems, like the Monica Lewinsky episode, were purely of his own doing. Other controversies, like the tiresome Whitewater affair, looked exaggerated by detractors. And some were blatant smears, like the idea that the Clintons murdered former advisor Vince Foster. (And don’t forget the cattle futures thing: the Arkansas version of an unauthorized trellis.) No conspiracy is necessary: if enough people hate you and they have this much ammunition, they will declare war.
It’s similar with CY. Short-lived Development Secretary CK Mak has been charged with claiming civil service housing perks decades ago. A genuine, if traditionally ignored, offence. His successor Paul Chan’s family was found to be renting out subdivided slums. Not an offence. CY and everyone else you can name has or had unauthorized building works in their homes. Not remotely noteworthy until the Henry Tang vs CY Leung race turned vicious at the beginning of 2012 and everyone exposed everyone else’s illegal structures. Executive Council member Franklin Lam sold a small slice of his property portfolio a bit before new government property taxes – of which he was unaware – were introduced, and he offered the real estate agent extra commission. Nothing more than unfortunate timing.
CY should feel entitled to stand up and declare that a vast property-developer conspiracy is at work. As with the Clintons, no actual plot has been necessary; poor judgment and bad luck have played into his enemies’ hands. But you need to fight fire with fire. “Look,” he should say, “we all know there is a smear campaign going on against my administration. We all know which newspapers are involved. We all know who owns these newspapers. And we all know who those owners’ friends are, and who they backed in the election last March, and which industries they are in. These are people who feel entitled to privileges, and they are angry that this new government does not share their priorities – because we are trying to help the grassroots [blah, blah, blah].” But that would be politics; we have to have harmony and consensus.
As indeed we shall over the next couple of days, as I now declare the weekend open.