21 February 2019
Carrie Lam has seen her approval rating rise after she flagged a conciliatory approach toward opposition groups, moving away from the confrontational path of her predecessor. Photo: Facebook
Carrie Lam has seen her approval rating rise after she flagged a conciliatory approach toward opposition groups, moving away from the confrontational path of her predecessor. Photo: Facebook

Carrie Lam must build on her good start

Nearly two weeks after taking up office as Hong Kong’s new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has seen a significant bump in her popularity.

According to the latest poll from the Hong Kong University (HKU), Lam’s approval rating has risen to 52 percent from 45 percent within a span of two weeks, while her disapproval rating is down from 41 percent to 34 percent.

As the HKU pollsters pointed out, as far as Lam is concerned, this could be seen as “successful performance”.

Not only did Lam’s approval ratings rise substantially after she assumed office, her cabinet members also witnessed substantial gain in popularity, including Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah, who were often considered the two most unpopular bureau chiefs in the new government.

So how exactly did Lam, who was lagging far behind her major rival John Tsang in popularity throughout the CE election four months ago, succeed in giving herself a public image face-lift and pulling off such a major political comeback?

We believe the new chief executive’s key to success lies in the fact that she has been making a massive, concerted and painstaking effort to cast off the shadow of her predecessor CY Leung and prove to the public that she is determined to do things her own way from day 1 after taking office.

Apparently, her effort has paid off, and as a result both the public and the pan-democrats no longer associate her with her former boss, despite the fact that the two of them actually used to be close-knit colleagues.

One striking example which demonstrates Lam’s determination to prove to the world that she is different from CY Leung is the way she behaved at the Q&A session at Legco on July 5.

During the session, Lam restored the former practice of standing behind a small podium to the right of the Legco president when answering lawmakers’ questions, unlike her former boss who had always chosen to stand behind a makeshift podium placed right in front of the seat of the Legco president.

It appears Lam was trying to the simple and humble body language to let lawmakers know that she was coming to Legco respectfully and sincerely to address their concerns rather than to steal the limelight or brag about the government’s achievements like Leung always did.

And lawmakers, particularly the pan-democratic ones, got the new CE’s message and treated her with respect in return, marking a totally different chapter compared to the usual scenes of intense crossfire and finger-pointing that we saw whenever Leung came to Legco Q&A sessions in the past.

No wonder Lam posted a message on her social media account afterwards saying, “it’s been quite a while since the last time things were so peaceful”.

Apart from body language, Lam also pulled off a political masterstroke to win over the pan-democrats by quickly delivering on her election promise of diverting an extra HK$5 billion annually into education, a policy initiative that is welcomed almost unanimously by the education sector.

As we all know, the education sector has remained a pan-democratic stronghold over the years. Given that, being able to win the hearts and minds of education workers would definitely work in favor of Lam’s attempt to seek reconciliation with the pan-democratic camp.

However, there is a concern that since CY Leung could very likely have been under Beijing’s order to take a tough stance on the opposition while he was in office, Lam could risk upsetting her Beijing bosses by going easy on the pan-democrats.

Yet in our opinion, we believe such concern is hardly warranted.

Let’s not forget that when President Xi Jinping visited our city recently, he urged the people of Hong Kong to “seek the biggest possible common ground despite huge differences”, and stressed that Beijing is willing to open up dialogue with any political group regardless of their ideologies as long as they faithfully support “One Country Two Systems” and the Basic Law.

As such, it is our view that Xi’s goodwill message can, to a significant extent, be interpreted as a green light to Lam’s initiative to extend an olive branch to the opposition and seek reconciliation. In other words, we believe Lam has Beijing’s mandate to reach out to the pan-democrats.

Now that our new CE is enjoying high approval ratings, we believe the next thing she has to do is to use her popularity to facilitate the implementation of her “new deal”, particularly when it comes to resolving the housing crisis in the city.

Obviously President Xi is also aware of the magnitude of the issue, and that is why he particularly emphasized the importance of tackling the housing problem in his speech delivered at the inauguration ceremony of the new government on July 1.

As Lam has said that she will restore the former practice of delivering the annual policy address in October instead of January, there are roughly a hundred days ahead for her to come up with solutions to the pressing issues that are facing our city.

And like us, there is no doubt the public are also eagerly waiting to see what Lam will announce in her first policy address.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 12

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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