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Discontent undermines handover anniversary

Celebrations may be muted as public approval plummets

The Golden Bauhinia is a well-known landmark in Hong Kong The Golden Bauhinia is a well-known landmark in Hong Kong
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong
  • June 19, 2012
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The Hong Kong Celebrations Association says it has organized three days of galas and carnivals in Hong Kong to mark 15 years since the handover of the territory on July 1. But all signs suggest many of the more than seven million people in Hong Kong are hardly in a mood to celebrate.

Two opinion polls published in the past fortnight by the Public Opinion Program at Hong Kong University show discontent in the territory is higher than ever.

The first found disapproval of the outgoing Chief Executive Donald Tsang has reached the highest level of his tenure at 78 percent.

A devout Catholic who reportedly attends church every morning, Tsang’s fall from grace has been dramatic following a healthy approval rating of 72 percent when he first took office in 2005.

A widening gap between rich and poor combined with a series of corruption scandals affecting the highest levels of his administration have been the main reason behind his plummeting popularity, say analysts.

Tsang has been marred by a string of scandals since February, including stays in presidential suites during official visits and trips on private jets and yachts owned by his tycoon friends.

His former chief secretary Rafael Hui is currently under investigation for allegedly receiving payments from real-estate tycoons worth more than US$2.5 million.

In another recent opinion poll interviewing 1,052 people in the territory, 36 percent said they held a negative view of Hong Kong’s administration, the highest since the 1997 handover.

Dr Camoes Tam Chi-keung, a commentator on Hong Kong-China relations, says the rise in pessimism in Hong Kong is hardly surprising as prosperity has waned since the handover in stark contrast to the mainland and Macau, both of which have flourished.

“Disparity between the rich and poor, and the hegemony of real-estate tycoons, had long been serious, and now the public has also witnessed problems in the civil service following the exposure of misconduct by the chief executive and top officials allegedly taking financial advantage,” he says.

Meanwhile, evidence suggests the gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong is widening.

In April, a real-estate advert drew widespread derision on chat forums as many saw the property – a 753-square-foot apartment for HK$4.1 million (US$528,000) described as “a blessed gift for the poor” – as further evidence that the middle class is being cut adrift in terms of spending power.

This assertion was given statistical weight yesterday when Hong Kong’s Gini co-efficient, an index that measures the gap between rich and poor, reached its highest in a decade at 0.537 in 2011.

Tam says the spiraling cost of housing and the public perception that an increasing percentage of Hong Kong’s wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the elite few are likely to be the biggest challenges for the incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

The new head of the territory’s government is therefore inheriting a poisoned chalice, says Ma Ngok, an associate professor in the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Part of the discontent comes from the rich-poor gap and other deep-rooted social conflicts, but a major reason is policy failure for which citizens do not see any hint of a solution,” he says.

Ma suggested that Beijing and the local administration speed up the democratization process in Hong Kong to appease fears that public policy is inflexible and ineffective.

“With a political system that is not democratic enough, people think public policies do not reflect their views,” he says.

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