24 October 2016
The government's promotional campaign for its political reform proposal has backfired and put a lot of people off. Photo: HKEJ
The government's promotional campaign for its political reform proposal has backfired and put a lot of people off. Photo: HKEJ

Govt’s hard-sell approach to political reform turns people off

The “pocket it first” political reform proposal will be put to the vote very soon, and lately, top administration officials have been expressing pessimism over its chances of getting the support of two-thirds of the legislators.

It appears the government is trying to manage the expectations of the public so that the damage to its authority and credibility can be reduced to the minimum once the reform package is defeated in the Legislative Council.

On the other hand, if things took a dramatic twist and the reform proposal was miraculously passed, then it would give a strong boost to government’s popularity, particularly to the “political reform trio” led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Judging from the current situation, unless some kind of miracle happens, the defeat of the proposal in Legco is almost a foregone conclusion.

Public opinion on the proposal has undergone dramatic changes over the past week, with the balance tilting in favor of the pan-democrats.

Since the proposal was officially announced at the end of April, the Chinese University, the Hong Kong University and the Polytechnic University have collaborated on a joint rolling survey to monitor public opinion on the reform package.

For the past couple of months, the survey continued to show there were more people in favor of the proposal than those against it.

And the pro-establishment camp was just too eager to milk the poll result for all it’s worth, urging the pan-democrats who had pledged to veto any reform proposal under the framework of Beijing’s resolution on Aug. 31, 2014 not to ignore the wishes of the people.

Then came the big surprise. In the latest survey findings published last Wednesday, the approval and disapproval ratings for the reform proposal were equal for the first time in months.

And in the following two days, the percentage of people against the reform package surpassed those who were in favor, indicating that voices against “pocket it first” have been gathering momentum in the run-up to the Legco vote.

In the face of this unexpected development, pro-establishment politicians and the pro-Beijing media immediately resorted to their old tricks, i.e., moving the goalpost by arguing that lawmakers shouldn’t cast their votes based on the findings of any single opinion poll.

Some even went further and accused the pan-democrats of manipulating the survey results to mislead the public. Such accusation is definitely as ridiculous as it gets.

And while the government banned all commercials by political parties on electronic media, it spent millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money on TV commercials to pitch the government proposal.

Yet it’s obvious that these publicity stunts have failed to convince the public to support the proposal, and to make matters worse, the campaign has backfired and put off a lot of those who originally supported the government package. Hence, the dramatic shift in public opinion last week.

It seems the government is already prepared for the worst on the political reform issue. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said on a radio program that once the reform package was vetoed, the administration would put it aside and focus on livelihood and economic issues.

Shortly after she said that, the government announced that it would once again press ahead with the setting up of the Innovation and Technology Bureau and make another attempt to push the funding request through Legco.

Moreover, the government said all other funding requests regarding the CSSA Scheme, the Old Age Living Allowance, the so-called “fruit money” and government pay rise would take a backseat and not be put on the agenda until the funding request for the new bureau is passed.

This suggests Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is trying to use the most disadvantaged in our society and the civil servants as bargaining chips in order to bring the pan-democrats to their knees.

If the administration is really concerned about the livelihood of our fellow citizens and the well-being of the underprivileged, as it claims, then it should set aside its political differences with the pan-democrats, stop hijacking social issues for political purposes, and look at the big picture for the sake of our society.

The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal

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