Heed public's view when picking chief

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am


A week is a long time in politics, it is often said. So it is not surprising that the last few months have seen some twists and turns in the race to become our city's next leader. Former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying seems determined to stand, despite reports that ex-chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen is the central government's preferred choice. Tang's popularity, meanwhile, has plunged after he took the unusual step of publicly confessing to having 'strayed' in his love life. That, in turn, prompted Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai to again consider contesting the poll.

Only 1,200 people will elect the chief executive, but that has not stopped the general public taking a keen interest. The words and deeds of the likely candidates are watched closely and reflected in public opinion poll findings. According to a survey commissioned by this newspaper, support for the likely candidates has shifted significantly. Leung has jumped from last place, with just 8 per cent support in June, to the top with 29 per cent this month. He overtook Fan, who slipped to second place with the backing of 19.2 per cent. Tang was only third, with 14 per cent support. When survey respondents were given a choice only of Tang or Leung, the latter's lead widened to 30 percentage points. Tang's admission of marital infidelity undoubtedly had some impact on public support for him - a quarter of the survey respondents said his statement had led them to view him negatively. Leung, on the other hand, may have gained support simply for pressing hard and making the election more interesting.

It is difficult to say how much influence, if any, public opinion will have on the selection of the next chief executive. It is not even clear who will stand. And without potential candidates stating clearly what they stand for, respondents to opinion surveys can only base their answers on their personal impressions of them. As the election draws closer, candidates must spell out their plans for Hong Kong.

The Election Committee that picks the chief executive will, if history is any guide, be dominated by people who tend to cast their ballot for the person they think Beijing wants in the job. But committee members should ensure they vote for a candidate who enjoys strong public support, as that is in the interests of both Hong Kong and the nation as a whole. Governing our city is not easy, and the popularity of our first two chief executives has decreased during their time in office. It would not be wise to choose a new leader who is already unpopular.

It is encouraging to hear that a high level of public acceptance has been cited by a top mainland official as one of the three main criteria for the next chief executive. It would be in Hong Kong's best interests for Beijing to keep an open mind at this stage; and to take into account the public's preference in the run-up to the March election.