17 September 2019
There's one factor that could very well explain the surprising rise in CY Leung's popularity rating. Photo: HKEJ
There's one factor that could very well explain the surprising rise in CY Leung's popularity rating. Photo: HKEJ

CY Leung popularity surges: Wha’ happened?

Husband: Honey, guess what? My popularity is rising.

Wife: Honey, I am so happy for you. I kept my mouth shut, too.

I know you didn’t laugh, but that’s meant to be a joke, about the morning the news came out that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s popularity is up.

According to the latest poll by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong, our dear leader’s net approval rating rebounded 9 percentage points to negative 29. Way to go!

Even program director Robert Chung Yiu-ting admits that Leung “has rebounded significantly compared to two weeks ago”. The vote of confidence in the chief executive rose 3 percentage points to 26 percent while the vote of no confidence dropped 6 percentage points to 55 percent.

What’s amazing is that the increase happened under the city’s highly politically charged environment as Beijing is set to unveil its decision on electoral reform while Benny Tai Yiu-ting and his group are preparing to occupy Central.

Funny enough, only a third of the local newspapers carried the cheerful development, which is probably the fault of Leung’s own supporters who never tire of questioning the credibility of the opinion poll.

So how did Leung pull this off? The buoyant stock market may have helped. There was a 3 percent surge in the Hang Seng Index during the survey period (July 21 to 24) as funds flowed into the Hong Kong bourse despite the jitters over the Occupy Central movement.

But there’s a lesser known but, we believe, the chief reason for this: Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. During the survey period, almost all papers except Apple Daily reported that the Next Media boss made donations to five pan-democrats, which they followed up with reports that the recipients may face an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption over the issue of conflict of interest.

All these headlines were listed in Chung’s daily briefings as well, but he left it to the readers to form their views on the factors behind the figures.

For 20 years, Apple Daily has been arguably the most influential mass paper in terms of stoking the public’s anti-government sentiment. The quest for democracy, freedom and justice is at the heart of media group, although it has also maintained an extensive coverage of three other popular topics: sex, gambling and drugs.

The regular barrage of news and views that question the integrity of government officials certainly had a telling effect on their credibility, and therefore popularity. An exasperated Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, when he was still the chief executive, once remarked:  “There is only one media that says we can’t get it done.”

The political donation saga could be payback time against Lai and the democrats on the eve of the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign, and provided a breathing space for the Leung administration.

The Legislative Council’s Committee on Members’ Interests will hold a closed-door meeting today to discuss Lai’s donation to pan-democrats on an individual basis.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’d bet on the continued improvement in Leung’s popularity. Not just because the Hang Seng Index is set to break 25,000, but more because of the sudden closure of pro-democracy House News.

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EJ Insight writer