Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has refused to detail the reasons behind a controversial free-television licensing decision, although the government is no longer bound by any judicial process to hold back its explanation.
The administration has said that looming legal action and the Executive Council's confidentiality rule meant it could not reveal why Ricky Wong Wai-kay's company failed in its licence bid, while two other firms succeeded.
The impact of that decision - which led tens of thousands of people to protest outside government headquarters in Admiralty last week - could be behind Leung's popularity plunge in the latest poll. With a record six out of 10 respondents casting a vote of no confidence in the chief executive, University of Hong Kong pollsters warned he might be slipping into a credibility crisis.
Yesterday, Leung said: "The government made the decision according to the laws, policies and procedure. It will be the same regardless of any judicial review … If there is one, the court will hear our arguments.
"The Executive Council's confidentiality rule and collective responsibility are long established and must be upheld."
He said Exco had considered "four principles" and "11 factors", without elaborating.
On Monday, Phillip Li Koi-hop, of political fringe group the People's Opposition Party, withdrew his application for a judicial review of the decision, in a bid to force the government to explain.
Wong's Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) has yet to carry out its separate plan to apply for a judicial review.
Instead, HKTV continued its battle on another front, saying officials past and present - including Equal Opportunities Commission chairperson Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and ex-civil service chief Joseph Wong Wing-ping - had urged the government to reveal its rationale. "Any misgivings about [interfering with] judicial proceedings are now dispelled," HKTV said. "But Leung is still rejecting calls to say why the policy changed and why HKTV lost. He owes Hongkongers the truth."
In an HKU poll of 1,000 people last week, Leung was rated 44 out of 100 points, down 4.1 points and the second lowest since he took office last year. Only 22 per cent expressed confidence in him, down 9 percentage points. And 60 per cent said they would cast a vote of no confidence, up 5 percentage points. Both confidence figures were new records.
"Leung has put in a fair bit of effort to overcome the [popularity] problem," Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of HKU's public opinion programme, said. "But all his efforts have apparently gone to waste after the television licensing decision."
He said that based on the experience of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, a popularity rating of below 45 marks "can indicate a credibility crisis".
Video: Cy Leung at Legco on the HKTV free-to-air ruling