23 October 2018
Carrie Lam's popularity ratings are at a record high, but the appointment of highly partisan Beijing loyalists to top government posts may stir up the hornet's nest. Photo: Reuters
Carrie Lam's popularity ratings are at a record high, but the appointment of highly partisan Beijing loyalists to top government posts may stir up the hornet's nest. Photo: Reuters

Lam’s high ratings at risk over likely appointments

Carrie Lam appears to have got off to a good start as Hong Kong’s chief executive with a dramatic surge in her popularity ratings.

But talk that she may appoint two undersecretaries with close ties with Beijing is raising public concern that she may be no different from her predecessor.

According to the latest survey by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong, which was conducted after her new cabinet had taken office, Lam’s popularity rating has increased by 11.5 marks to 63.7 from two weeks ago.

She notched an approval rate of 52 percent and a disapproval rate of 34 percent, giving her a net popularity of positive 19 percentage points. That’s 15 percentage points from two weeks ago.

Both her popularity rating and net approval rate are at a record high, putting her under the category of a “successful” performer.

What did Lam do in the past 10 days that drove her ratings to such high levels? It should be her humble demeanor and reconciliatory approach in dealing with the opposition, so much unlike the style of her predecessor Leung Chun-ying.

Lam’s proposal of adding HK$5 billion to the funding for the education sector would also demonstrate her determination to do something good across the political spectrum.

But Lam is not likely to maintain such a friendly atmosphere if she touches on the raw nerve of political conflicts between Hong Kong and mainland China, or the deep-rooted strifes in the local community.

The likely appointment of Beijing loyalists Christine Choi and Simon-Hoey Lee as undersecretaries for education and home affairs respectively could end Lam’s honeymoon with the opposition as it will make obvious to all and sundry that Beijing’s game plan is to stuff the civil service with loyalists, rather than maintain its non-partisan character and high level of professionalism.

Such moves to inject highly politicized loyalists into the administration would shake up the city’s much revered civil service.

Many Hongkongers have yet to accept the fact that the central government has a say in all government appointment in Hong Kong. Carrie Lam may have her own choice but the final decision lies with Beijing.

That’s the reason why the likely appointment of two pro-Beijing candidates as undersecretaries is stirring up a hornet’s nest.

After reports that Choi will get an appointment in the education bureau started spreading in late June, the Professional Teachers’ Union, parent and student concern groups and staff associations from the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University launched a signature campaign and were able to gather more than 10,000 signatures in less than three weeks to oppose her appointment.

The vehemence that greeted her likely appointment springs from the fact that Choi, aside from being known as a Beijing loyalist, was deeply involved in promoting the controversial patriotic education curriculum, which parents and students believe is meant to brainwash young people on the glories of the Communist Party of China.

The government, in all likelihood, will just ignore the opposition’s opposition and proceed with appointing Choi, and will probably insist that “the appointment is based on the candidate’s talent and qualifications”.

After all, the pro-establishment camp is likely to say, the new administration also appointed a full-fledged democrat in Law Chi-Kwong as labor and welfare minister, so why complain if an undersecretary is chosen from the pro-Beijing camp?

However, this is not a matter of fairness but of social justice, according to the pro-democracy camp.

If Choi had done the correct thing five years ago, then tens of thousands of parents and students would not have risen up to oppose the national education curriculum, and the government would not have found itself in the unenviable position of having to withdraw the controversial program in the face of massive protests.

Choi’s appointment would also be a slap in the face of the teaching professionals who cast their votes in last year’s Legislative Council election. Choi was defeated by Ip Kin-yuen in the education functional constituency election.

Since the teaching professionals have expressed their views through the ballot, it would be ridiculous for the government to appoint the loser in the election to a senior government post that has jurisdiction over their sector.

Lau Kong-wah, a pro-Beijing politician who lost in the Legco election in 2012, was also appointed to senior government posts and subsequently became one of the most unpopular officials in the CY Leung administration. He has been appointed home affairs chief by the current administration. So why is the current government so keen on repeating a past mistake?

Another Beijing loyalist tipped to be named Lau’s number two is Simon-Hoey Lee, who is currently a director of Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank of state leader Tung Chee-hwa.

One eye-catching item on his CV is that he served as a local government official in a mainland province for several years. Some opposition members even allege that he is a Communist Party member.

Where his political loyalty lies is another matter. But his choice will certainly make people doubt if Carrie Lam indeed had a say in the choice of members of her governing team or if it was Beijing who chose them for her.

Carrie Lam is off to a good start, but she must take care not to stumble on account of her team. 

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe