Reform campaign disasters show clumsiness of govt officals

May 05, 2015 13:56
Ko Wing-man (left) loses his temper with a resident during the campaign. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying faces protests during his campaign appearance in Mei Foo. Photos: RTHK, MingPao

On April 25, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and a bunch of top officials officially launched the promotional campaign for the government's electoral reform proposal with a bus tour.

However, the effort came under fire from netizens and the media for being insincere, as none of the officials even bothered to get off the bus to face the public directly during the event.

Later the chief secretary explained that she and her team didn’t reach out to the crowd and talk to their fellow citizens on that day because the police had advised them not to, out of concerns about their safety.

After that first campaign event turned into a PR disaster, the administration slightly adjusted its promotional tactics so as to avoid protesters.

On April 27, Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing went to Eastern district to distribute leaflets to the public pitching the political reform proposal, without notifying the media.

Shortly after that, government information coordinator Andrew Fung Wai-kwong posted a message on social media praising Tsang highly, saying": “Well done! Who says our officials never reach out to the crowd?”

It seems the government was trying to mend fences with the public by continuing to send top government officials to talk to citizens face-to-face on the main streets about the political reform proposal.

However, what the administration is doing is too little too late.

Then came Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok, who went to Kwai Chung the following day to promote the political reform package accompanied by legislator Alice Mak Mei-kuen of the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), also without notifying the media.

The reason our top government officials condescended to reach out to the crowd to pitch the reform package without telling the media is simple: they want to avoid any possible disturbance from protesters.

However, the sneaky tactic is likely to backfire, as it might not only dismay the majority of the public but also waste the time of the officials, because without media coverage, such acts will have little effect on public opinion, let alone changing the mind of those who are firmly against “pocketing it first”.

Although the chief secretary has repeatedly stressed that the campaign for the political reform proposal is in full swing and is aimed to draw massive public attention to win the support of Hongkongers, the sneaky way in which the top officials are reaching out to the public actually runs counter to Lam’s goal.

In fact, the government’s campaign for the reform proposal has received a mixed response from  the public so far, and its sneaky acts to avoid the media and protesters have created yet another PR disaster, for which Fung should be held accountable.

After the first three days of the campaign had turned into a catastrophe, Lam once again took the reins and reached out to the people on the main street in Lai Chi Kok on April 29, this time in the company of Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung, plus legislator Chan Yuen-han, an FTU heavyweight.

In the absence of protesters, everything went smoothly.

During the event, the chief secretary seized the opportunity to clarify that the government always treasured its working partnership with the media and that transparency would always be given priority.

On May 2, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung and Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man appeared on the main streets of East Kowloon simultaneously to distribute leaflets on the electoral reform proposal.

However, during that afternoon, Ko was caught on camera losing his temper when confronting a citizen who was against “pocketing it first”, and after a fierce debate, he just turned around and walked away.

This incident immediately became a sensation among the public, even eclipsing the promotional campaign itself, and caught the government completely off guard.

In fact the entire campaign simply epitomizes the style with which our government has been governing our city: whenever our administration puts forward any new policy initiatives, it often demonstrates determination at the start.

However, once it runs into difficulties, the government often tends to have cold feet about pressing ahead with its original plan and hastily wraps things up.

The current promotional campaign for the political reform proposal is just another example showing the lack of coordination and clumsy response to public opposition.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 4.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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After protests emerged on the first day of the officials' public campaign, they decided to deliver their message from the safe distance of the top of a bus. Photo: HK Govt
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen (at microphone) got help from a pro-establishment party on a campaign stop. But he was asked to leave a cafe where he tried to distribute leaflets. Photos: Youtube
Some officials target older folk, who are seen as generally more pro-government, to lessen the likelihood of an argument arising. Photos: HK Govt
Other officials take their campaign for electoral reform to children and babies. Photos: HK Govt

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal