The South China Morning Post asks how easy it will be for Beijing to appoint Henry Tang as Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive in the face of negative public opinion. This follows the poll results it published yesterday giving Henry a pitiful 14% approval rating, compared with a slightly more impressive 29% for Leung Chun-ying. The SCMP article quotes two learned commentators who mildly disagree with each other about how much this will influence the final decision, leaving the reader none the wiser.
One reason not to take the poll too seriously is that the last one in June now looks like a joke. Rita Fan, who won handsomely with a 33% rating, has changed her mind about whether she wants the job at least once too often and has now further shredded her own credibility by mouthing off about the 1989 Beijing massacre (an event, incidentally, that reminds us how much the Chinese Communist Party values the public’s views). Opinion polls inflict mental cruelty on candidates – ask Republican presidential nominee hopefuls Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and soon Herman Cain – which is the only reason we pay attention to them.
I call Henry’s 14% pitiful, but it works out at 75 of the 533 respondents in the survey, which is a good 70 or so more than the man’s verbal slips, marital problems and overall image warrant. This is a bit more apparent when the pollsters offered respondents a choice of just the two, yielding 52% for CY and around 23% for Henry.
Either way, Beijing will not appoint the man Hong Kong people like; they just won’t give the job to someone everyone violently hates. Henry has too little substance to arouse hatred. CY Leung, on the other hand, unnerves people with his ideas; even some thoughtful critics of the way Hong Kong is run find the prospect of five more years of flaccid administration under Henry and his civil service robots vaguely comforting when they try to imagine life with CY as boss.
If Beijing is worried, its officials will surely urge what Henry’s local establishment supporters are probably already planning, and that is to do a proper PR job. The contenders’ hands are tied at the moment because they haven’t officially declared themselves as candidates. But in due course we can expect a tiresome, corny and not totally ineffective publicity campaign to boost Henry – endorsements from Cantopop and movie stars, photo opportunities with puppy dogs and people in wheelchairs, and so on. Until and unless crowds spit on him on the street, the job is his.
Meanwhile, spot the blatant falsehood…
The SCMP’s writers know as well as anyone that the 1,200 members of the Election Committee will have no more say over the choice of the next Chief Executive than the other 7 million of us. The decision is made by Beijing, and the ‘election’ by the 1,200 next March will be a charade. The only thing more embarrassing will be the straight-faced references to it in the media suggesting the sham is real.