The spin doctors tasked with improving the Hong Kong chief executive’s image must be having a hard time. Throughout CY Leung’s first six months in power, he’s been accused of working for Beijing – a betrayal in the eyes of the Hong Kong people – and on several occasions Hong Kong-ers have taken to the streets to protest Leung’s supposed communist sympathies.
The latest anti-government demonstration, which took place on New Year’s Day, saw thousands call for the chief executive’s resignation amid rising anger at the continued lack of democracy in the former British territory.
Most recently, Leung survived a vote of no confidence, holding on to his mandate despite the discovery of an illegal basement at his home, the existence of which the chief executive at first denied. Hong Kong-ers are sticklers for square footage – every extension has to be legally approved before being built or else you can get in all sorts of trouble.
Having won the election on a populist platform that put public housing and a ban on Mainland Chinese mothers giving birth at Hong Kong hospitals at the top of the political agenda, Leung’s dipping popularity levels must have his media advisers tearing their hair out.
His debut policy speech last week characterised his approach so far: pragmatic and utterly boring. For those of us assembled at government headquarters, what defined him mainly was his lack of charisma. Reading from a piece of paper, barely looking up at his audience or stopping to take a sip of water, Leung droned on for two hours.
The chief executive’s rivals took the opportunity to liven things up themselves. One held up a paper cut-out of Leung’s face with a Pinocchio-style nose and another got up to wheel around a cart of loo rolls, easily diverting the assembled TV crews’ attention.
Unless Leung finds it in himself to perk up a bit, he can promise as much new housing as he likes but few are likely to be on his side as he goes up against his adversaries.
Pleasing those he’s supposed to lead is another matter entirely, for as long as Leung is seen as a Beijing stooge, he won’t get sympathy from the Hong Kong people. But then again, as an unelected leader, Leung doesn’t really have to care about what Hong Kong-ers think about him. Perhaps that’s the main reason why he remains so disliked and why it’s an impossible task for any spin doctor to make the chief executive palatable to the public.
Liv Lewitschnik is Hong Kong bureau chief for Monocle.