22 October 2018
The latest survey conducted by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong shows that Chief Executive Carrie Lam is still finding it difficult to win the support of the youth. Photo: AFP
The latest survey conducted by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong shows that Chief Executive Carrie Lam is still finding it difficult to win the support of the youth. Photo: AFP

Why Carrie Lam has failed to win the support of Hong Kong youth

It appears that a growing number of people in Hong Kong are feeling better under the reign of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. But it cannot be denied that her administration is still finding it difficult to win the support of the younger generation and the more educated members of society.

The main reason the youth do not feel comfortable under her leadership is the perception that Beijing continues to tighten its grip on the territory, extending its influence over all aspects of Hong Kong life from education to economy and politics.

According to the latest survey conducted by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong, Lam’s popularity rating has increased by 4.0 marks from early November to 62.9. Her latest approval rate is 54 percent while the disapproval rate is 31 percent, giving her a net popularity of positive 23 percent, up by a huge 8 percentage points from early November.

In a broader context, the SAR government also saw a huge increase in popularity. Its satisfaction rate now stands at 47 percent while the dissatisfaction rate is 30 percent. So its net satisfaction rate rose by 12 points to positive 17 percent, its highest rating since May 2008. The latest net trust also rose 17 points to positive 29 percent, the highest since September 2010.

In the eyes of the many Hongkongers, Lam and her team are doing a good job since assuming office in July, which is totally different from how they perceive the rule of her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying.

And so it appears that Beijing had made a good decision in not letting CY Leung seek a second term and in telling Lam to lead the government in an effort to enhance social harmony in Hong Kong.

But if one looks more closely at the results of the latest survey, one will notice that not all sectors of society are supporting Lam. A deeper analysis of the poll shows that the younger and more educated respondents remain critical of her administration.

The survey finds that more than half of the respondents in the 18-29 age group and over 40 percent of those who have received tertiary education or higher are opposed to Lam as chief executive.

On the other hand, only around 30 percent of the those in other age groups said they were opposed to Lam’s administration. 

So why are Hong Kong youth and the educated members of society not satisfied with her leadership?

The pollster did not offer probable reasons for such results. But it is quite obvious that Lam, in her past five months in office, is walking in a different direction from what the youth expect of her. It’s better to say that they believe Lam is blindly following orders from the central authorities even at the expense of Hong Kong’s interests.

During the election campaign, Lam avoided touching controversial political issues so as not to antagonize the public, especially those who are opposed to Beijing’s moves to weaken the city’s autonomy.

Her strategy was to instill public confidence in her leadership, to do away with the political conflicts that mark her predecessor’s administration, and to focus on how to enhance social harmony and improve the livelihood of the people.

But such controversies will continue to hound her administration simply because the central authorities are bent on imposing their will on Hong Kong, on integrating the territory into the mainstream of Chinese society, to stifle dissent and secure loyalty to the Communist Party’s leadership.

Hopes of social harmony dimmed as the government kicked off the legislation process for the co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link, prompting the democratic camp to rise in opposition as they believe the scheme violates the Basic Law.

Then a senior Beijing official paid a visit to the city to lecture on the “one country, two systems” principle as schoolchildren listened to the live broadcast of his long, soporific speech. There’s also the move to enact a legislation adopting the national anthem law, which will force everyone in Hong Kong to manifest their loyalty to the Communist Party by standing up and showing reverence while the anthem is played.

Then pro-Beijing politicians crawled out of the woodwork to warn that the kind of disrespect shown by young football fans who booed the national anthem before the start of an international game would merit Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong.

As Beijing loyalists dominated the airwaves, explaining the need for Hongkongers to respect China, Lam tried to avoid the controversy as our freedom of expression is protected under the Basic Law, but soon stressed the importance of “one country”. Indeed, our chief executive cannot prove herself to be a good leader in the eyes of her Beijing bosses if she cannot put their interests above those of Hong Kong.

Recently, a senior Beijing official stressed the need for Hong Kong to enact the controversial national security law to protect the Communist Party’s sovereignty in Hong Kong. Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, said: “Hong Kong needs to implement Article 23 legislation and the consequences of not having done so already are evident. The SAR has a responsibility to implement the law to safeguard the country’s sovereignty.” 

Lam deliberately avoided this issue when she cobbled her election campaign manifesto, but now she has no choice but to address it after her bosses ordered her to do so.

She knows that enacting a national security law will be one of the biggest battles in her five-year term, but it is a task that she cannot avoid and she must accomplish as soon as possible.

That’s why, given the enormous tasks that Beijing wants her to do, her approval rating among the youth is only bound to get worse.

The survey confirms that Lam has achieved some success in healing social divisions in the eyes of older members of the community.

But how could she truly unify Hong Kong if she fails to gain the support of a major sector of the community, the young people who represent our next generation?

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe