• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 3:10pm
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 1:36am

Unpopular Leung Chun-ying cannot possibly pass the 2017 test

Michael Chugani believes there's no chance that the vilified Leung could win a popular vote in 2017, and Beijing should not try to engineer it


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

A very senior government official recently asked me if it was possible to improve Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's dismal popularity ratings. I shook my head. Leung has a mission impossible: getting the people to judge him fairly. The current political mood simply doesn't lend itself to that.

Popularity ratings go up or down based on the policy successes, failures, and likeability of those polled. In Leung's case, Hongkongers are judging him not on his successes or failures but on their perception of what he is. The public perception of Leung is that of a liar, a divisive leader, an underground communist, and a chief executive who does Beijing's bidding.

Not everyone shares this perception but much of the mainstream media and the democracy camp have shaped it as the overwhelming view of the people. With such a negative image, policy successes can do little to lift his popularity.

His ratings continue to languish despite his many achievements. Before he even took office, he succeeded in stopping mainland mothers from giving birth here, freeing up hospital beds for locals. He eased the infant formula shortage with a two-tin limit for travellers, set a poverty line, issued a blueprint to tackle air pollution, and cooled the overheated property market. For the first time in years, my landlord is not raising my rent, citing falling prices.

If the people judged Leung purely on those achievements, his popularity would shoot up. But those successes have been lost in the animosity. Public fury over national education and the rejection of a free-to-air TV licence for Ricky Wong Wai-kay solidified the perception that he is Beijing's puppet, even though he inherited both issues from his predecessor. He has been stuck with a "liar" tag for not revealing his own illegal structures after having slammed election rival Henry Tang Ying-yen over his illegal basement. He is seen as one who cannot be trusted.

The media grew even more hostile when the mindset stuck that Leung wants to muzzle the media. And he earned more brickbats than kudos for successfully ending the prolonged stand-off between Hong Kong and the Philippines over the Manila hostage tragedy.

It will take a miracle for his popularity to rise as Hong Kong collides with the central government in the coming months over democratic reforms. Beijing will dictate the reforms we are allowed, not Leung, but as the chief executive, he will be swept up in the tsunami of anger if Hongkongers see the reforms as not true democracy. He has said he will run again in 2017, but can he win?

Yes, if Beijing wants him to. But will Beijing want him to? Probably, if no deal is reached on universal suffrage and the next leader is chosen under the existing undemocratic system. But if a deal is reached - even one that includes filtering out candidates considered unpatriotic - Beijing can expect public wrath if it tried to engineer a universal suffrage election victory of the unpopular Leung.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com


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This article is now closed to comments

Better a five year Leung who did some thing, than a seven year Tsang who did nothing. Judge not the length but the net of achievements and mistakes. Leung should be at peace with himself even if he isn't re-elected. Consider it an early retirement while history may "rehabilitate" the unfair perceptions.
Our pan-democrat and mainstream media projects HK has to work as an independent country without facing the reality HK is just part of PRC no matter you like it or not. They always blame the current system is not fair but they should learn from CY who emerged as the winner after being an outsider originally in the competition. The pan-democrat has no intention to govern or even helping the government to improve governance but simply want to stay in the moral high ground continuously as an opposition party without doing anything tangible for the benefit of HK. If they want to be the CE, please get yourself prepared with a proper governing plan for HK and if one day, you are not allowed to join the race even with strong support in the public, I am sure millions of people will come up in the street to support you. What we need is a chief executive who has a vision for HK and prepare to withstand the opposing force to execute while in face of China, he can stand firm on our principles while knowing how to deal with China amicably for the best interest of HK.
Mr Chugani, a week is a long time in politics. Three years is an eternity.
Perception is difficult to change especially since LEUNG, as Michael rightly says, is deemed a liar and seems to be a Beijing yes-man. His strengths are the property measures, milk infant powder measures and maternity bed spaces. However, what hurt him most were the National Education fiasco and the HKTV issue both of which he handled terribly. The government he leads does not seem to be caring enough and he could do something on the investigation of the Marine Department on the Lamma ferry tragedy. Where heads need to roll, so be it.
It will not be too difficult to improve CY's popularity ratings by a few points but that will not be enough to secure a second term. He is not seen to be a natural leader but rather Beijing's puppet. Even CH TUNG seemed more willing to stand up for HK's interests against Beijing. Beijing should set its sights on grooming someone who can be considered acceptable to HK people and in doing so it should realize that anyone seen to be vastly pro-Beijing is likely to be political baggage.
In an actual, fair, democratically valid election, CY Leung would have less than a snowflake's chance in Middle Earth. However, it would be fun if Beijing meddled to her heart's content and installed CY back to the post after 2017. It would be a wake-up call for those Hkers still in a slumber and remind them that 1C/2S is not worth the tainted paper that it's written on.
Mandate of the people. What an alien concept in a country that uses "People" to the point where it really means nothing...


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