Recession is when your neighbour loses his/her job. Depression is when you lose your job. Recovery is when Tung Chee-hwa loses his job. This was the political satire in one of the placards waved by a protester during the New Year rally on Thursday. Compared with the mass protest on July 1, however, calls for the chief executive to step down were not the major voice. And there have been fewer gestures poking fun at Mr Tung. According to a survey by the Chinese-language Ming Pao, 179 of the 379 people interviewed said they joined the rally because they wanted Mr Tung to go. More people, 304, joined because of dissatisfaction with the government's overall performance and 287 supported calls for universal suffrage. Six months after the July 1 rally, the 'down with Tung' clamour has quietened. An anti-Tung campaign has drawn a small following in the community. But he is seemingly no longer a hot favourite in political satire on the internet and in print. For his part, Mr Tung has attempted to avoid politically controversial issues in recent months, except for a decision to handpick 102 members to sit on the District Councils. His diary may remain full from early morning until the evening, Monday to Saturday, but he has become less visible on public occasions. There have been few sound-bites from him in recent events. But if the anti-Tung placard in the New Year rally says something, it reflects sentiment deeply rooted among a cross-section of Hong Kong people towards the chief executive. Such sentiment might not be intense enough to trigger massive protests. But as shown on January 1, it has and will underpin the mood of society so long as Mr Tung stays in the top post. This is despite the slight improvement in his popularity ratings in the latest opinion survey by university pollsters. The chief executive has been bracing for tougher times ahead with fewer allies and more foes. Soon after the November 23 District Council elections, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong swiftly distanced itself from the government. Uncharacteristically, unionist Chan Yuen-han has been openly critical of Mr Tung. According to a long-time pro-Beijing figure, there has been a marked change of attitude within the China-friendly circle towards Mr Tung. 'Everyone approached him to befriend with him in the first few years,' the Beijing supporter said. 'Now, they still greet him as a matter of courtesy in those cocktail functions. [But] when they turn their backs, they start talking bad things about him.' Against that background, it is not surprising that the idea of 'dumping Tung and securing the DAB' has emerged in the wake of the pro-Beijing flagship's defeat in the district polls. The line of argument was that the DAB would be doomed in the crucial Legislative Council elections next September if Mr Tung stays on. Ironically, it is the pan-democracy forces who would like to see Mr Tung hang on, giving them an easy target for attacks on the flawed and undemocratic political system. With public consultation on democratic development soon to begin, these forces will focus on electoral changes after 2007. Realistically, they will pin their hopes on lobbying Beijing and influential sectors such as business for full democracy. Grilled by Frontier legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing in October, Mr Tung was adamant that he would stay on because he had not yet accomplished his mission. 'I should face (the criticism) proactively, rectify the mistakes and try my best to do it well,' he said. In the shifting political landscape, Mr Tung faces a challenge to assert his relevance in the development of Hong Kong on the threshold of change.