Yes, or just No? Public opinion during HK Chief Executive Election 2012

This year’s Hong Kong Chief Executive Election has been anything but normal. As I noted last time, it was instrumental in creating new norms that I feel will be beneficial in the future. One of the more interesting aspects was of this years campaign was the swings in public opinion, which I believe had a distinct impact on the race as a whole. More interestingly, was support for any of the candidates a ‘Yes’ in support of them, or merely a ‘No’ in opposition?

From the off, Leung chun-ying seemed to have the upper hand in public opinion, with regular reports of how he was besting Henry Tang by sometimes double digits. On the surface of it, it seemed that the Hong Kong people prefered Leung, who was seen as having an outsiders chance of dethroning Tang, who at the time was perceived as ‘China’s pick’. In many respects, this may be true. Certainly, Tang was the first to be hit by a series of scandals with his marriage laid out in full view, followed by massive cranes being put outside his Kowloon Tong residence. So in the midst of the campaign, you had Leung, who was seen as popular and the people’s choice, in comparison to Tang who was scandal hit and China’s choice.

With Tang’s rather unwarranted outbursts revealing Exco meeting details, it became increasingly clear that he would be an unviable candidate, lacking both public opinion and having a long series of unforced errors. Attention then swung quite strongly towards Leung. However, Leung turned out to have a closet of his own with allegations of corruption and very-late-coming allegations from Tang of being an advocate for greater power and more limited freedoms. Also, in the closing stages of the campaign, there were further questions as to whether Leung was an underground member of the Chinese Communist Party. All this helped turn the perception of Leung as the under-dog to the presumed Chinese pick, something that the Chinese liaison office seemed to support by almost openly canvasing for electors to vote for Leung.

And so with the boat upside-down, public opinion seemed to drain from Leung as well. Part of this may have had to do with his various scandals, but part of me thinks that support for Leung was never really that strong in the first place. That’s not to say the polls were wrong, but rather than the reason for supporting Leung originated as a voice of opposition against the system. Having the under-dog tag and not being seen as China’s pick allowed Leung to look like he was fighting against the system. Once that perception fell with China’s not-so-subtle advocacy for him, it became clear that neither Tang nor Leung were good vehicles for voicing opposition to the system. Obviously Albert Ho was an alternative, but given the fact that he would never get elected, something even he himself admitted, it would have been an almost waste to support Ho.

The strong voice in opposition to the entire system came in HKU’s opinion poll. Results showed that over 50% of people who voted submitted blank votes. This, coinciding with Leung’s slide in support makes me think that polls showing high support for him were more influenced by the perception that he was the under-dog and anti-Beijing choice rather than genuine support for his policies or him as an individual.

The most important question for those of us from Hong Kong has little to do with this years election. Rather, the question we should be asking ourselves in the aftermath of this years election is when and what it takes for us to say ‘Yes’ to a candidate when we are handed the ballot. Voicing opposition works until you have the power you demanded. Then it becomes a question of what you do with it. Who would you say yes to? Feel free to comment below.