Popularity is not something to be shrugged off by our leaders

January 26, 2016 15:35
If reports that Queen Elizabeth will pass the crown to Prince William are true, it suggests that even the British royal family can't ignore public opinion about the choice of successors. Photo: Reuters

In September last year, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

On Feb. 6, she will be celebrating the 64th anniversary of her coronation.

Meanwhile, her son, Prince Charles, has also set a record -- that of being the longest-serving heir apparent to the British throne, having held the position since 1952, when he was three years old.

In recent years, rumour has had it that the queen might skip Prince Charles and pass the crown directly to her grandson Prince William, who is second in line to the throne.

A report by the British tabloid magazine OK! says the queen expressed that wish at a Christmas party held at the Buckingham Palace in December.

She said she had decided to abdicate shortly and that William would leapfrog his father to assume the throne as King William IV, and his wife, Kate Middleton, would become Queen Catherine, OK! reported.

Although the palace has so far refused to comment, the unconfirmed report did create a sensation among the British public.

Many believe the reason Prince Charles won’t be the next British monarch is largely his continued low popularity, which dates back to as early as the 1990s, when he divorced the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and married Camilla Parker Bowles.

If the queen did eventually pass her throne to her grandson rather than Charles, it would suggest that even though the British monarch is not elected, public opinion and approval ratings remain a prime concern for the British royal family when it comes to choosing the next king or queen.

In the meantime, on the other side of the Atlantic, it has emerged that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is actively thinking about running for US president and may officially announce his decision by early March.

The main factor prompting Bloomberg to run is that he is so dismayed at the front runners of both the Republican and Democratic parties, including Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

He reportedly believes he has an advantage over all these hopefuls in terms of popularity, given his high approval ratings during his terms as New York mayor before.

No matter whether it is the succession to the British throne or the US presidential election, these examples illustrate a cast-iron fact: popularity is always the overriding concern.

In contrast, however, our chief executives in Hong Kong, past and present, have appeared not to have been bothered by their low approval ratings at all.

To put it more precisely, they simply shrugged off their low popularity with the public.

While they might not be personally worried about their unpopularity, the harsh reality remains that any unpopular leader and his or her administration are bound to encounter huge difficulties and opposition from the people whenever they put forward any policy initiatives.

It is because the public has simply lost their trust in them, and anything proposed by an unpopular government easily arouses public suspicion.

One striking example is the Moral and National Education Curriculum proposed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in 2012, which was finally aborted after fierce opposition from the public.

Today, Leung’s approval ratings are even lower than four years ago, and it is not hard to imagine how difficult it is for him to govern our city effectively these days.

As the next election for chief executive will remain a small-circle race decided by the 1200-strong election committee, one wonders how Hong Kong will deteriorate further if our next chief executive also suffers from low popularity and credibility like his or her predecessors.

The high popularity of leaders is the key to good governance, and no government can afford to ignore public opinion in the long run, a golden rule that applies to the West and the East, to ancient and modern societies.

Leaders in Hong Kong would be naïve if they believed they could be an exception to history.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 25.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal