John Tsang neck and neck with Carrie Lam in poll for Hong Kong’s next leader

Financial secretary has lead over Carrie Lam in poll commissioned by the Post, but gap appears to have narrowed, despite Palace Museum row

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 1:51pm

Two of the top contenders in Hong Kong’s leadership race are running almost neck and neck in public opinion, according to a survey commissioned by the Post, with Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah slightly ahead of No 2 official Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Tsang scored a lead of 4.4 per cent over the chief secretary in the poll of 1,024 people conducted by Chinese University’s centre for communication and public opinion between January 4 and 10, but the gap narrowed considerably with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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Nearly half of respondents said Lam stood a higher chance of winning the top job.

Seen as Beijing’s preferred candidate, Lam is expected to resign on Thursday to prepare for her campaign while Tsang, who has more sympathy in the pan-democratic camp, is still waiting for Beijing to accept the resignation he submitted a month ago.

This is the first such survey since the chief secretary became embroiled in the controversy over a deal she made with Beijing to build Hong Kong’s own version of the capital’s famed Palace Museum. Lam’s announcement on December 23 that the museum was a done deal sparked a storm that is proving a severe leadership test for her. She is under fire for keeping the project secret and failing to consult the public on building it at the West Kowloon Cultural District at a cost of HK$3.5 billion, to be funded by the Jockey Club.

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But it appears the museum row has not shaken Lam’s popularity. In the Post survey, 23.2 per cent of respondents picked her as their preferred city chief, compared with 23.9 per cent of those responding to the same question in another survey, conducted by the same centre and commissioned by the Hong Kong Economic Journal between December 12 and 16.

The financial secretary is backed by 27.6 per cent in the Post survey, down from 32.6 per cent in the previous poll. Putting the two surveys together, the gap between the two officials has narrowed from 8.7 percentage points to 4.4.

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“The narrowing gap is because of the slip in Tsang’s level of support,” said Professor Francis Lee Lap-fung, who advised the pollsters. “This may be because of the delay in Beijing’s approval of his resignation, which has put him in an embarrassing situation.”

Asked who had the highest chance of winning, some Tsang backers turned to Lam. Only 19.9 per cent expected Tsang to win, while 45.5 per cent picked Lam.

“Some Hong Kong people are realistic. If they know someone has a lower chance of winning, they may not support him or her,” Lee said.

Some 9.7 per cent of respondents supported lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who has already launched her campaign. Two potential candidates, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing and former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, received 12.6 per cent and 7.9 per cent support respectively.

When it came to leadership criteria, more than half of the respondents, or 50.9 per cent, chose “ability to heal the rift in society” as the most important quality.

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“Vision for Hong Kong’s long-term development” came second, and “personal integrity” was third, selected by 49.8 per cent and 43.7 per cent of interviewees respectively. They were allowed to pick up to three qualities.

“Solving the housing affordability problem” emerged as the biggest expectation of most, with 63.6 per cent listing it as the issue that should top the next leader’s agenda. “Tackling income inequality” and “focusing on the economy” came second and third, and restarting the city’s stalled political reform process was only the fourth choice.

Tsang’s camp, Lam’s office and Ip declined to comment on the findings, while Woo said he would continue to build his support base.