This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Public support for Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and her top officials has fallen further in recent weeks, with pollsters citing the freezing of the bank accounts of a former opposition lawmaker and his family as a key factor.
Lam’s popularity rating now stands at 30.6 marks, of which 45 percent of the study’s 1,009 participants gave her zero marks, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program (HKPOP) reported on Tuesday.
The random telephone survey conducted by real interviewers of Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents aged 18 or above found that Lam’s overall approval rating had fallen by five percent compared with the last opinion poll.
Respondents’ ratings on perceived “freedom,” “stability,” “prosperity,” “rule of law,” and “democracy” were less than five out of 10 across the board, the survey found.
The survey found that Lam and her top officials scored 3.85/10 for “rule of law,” with ratings for “freedom” at 4.68/10.
“Compared with a month ago, rating of ‘prosperity’ has dropped significantly and registered its new low since records began in 1997,” HKPOP said in a statement on the survey.
Victor Ng of the Hong Kong Institute of Education said the poll fully reflects public dissatisfaction with Lam’s policy address and the government’s perceived ineffectiveness in fighting the pandemic.
He said the self-exile of former democratic lawmakers Ted Hui and Baggio Leung had contributed to public perception that Hong Kong is no longer free.
“There was a drop in the prosperity rating, which could be related to the pandemic and its economic impact, but also to the freezing of Ted Hui’s assets, and falling confidence in the financial system,” Ng said.
“A lot of things happened this month,” he said. “The exiles of Hui and Leung, and further prosecutions under the National Security Law all show that freedom and democracy in Hong Kong have deteriorated even more.”
Ng said media reports had shown a sharp rise in applications for the U.K.’s British National Overseas (BNO) passport, which offers a pathway to residency and eventual citizenship to some three million Hongkongers in the wake of the ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent under the national security law.
“Maybe people are a little frustrated and want to leave Hong Kong,” Ng said. “The number of applicants for the BNO is expected to exceed 730,000 by the end of the year.”
Media reports indicated on Tuesday that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may force holders of BNO passports to relinquish their Chinese citizenship.
A loss of face
Hong Kong political commentator Willy Lam said the CCP doesn’t want to see a large proportion of Hong Kong’s seven million residents opt for British nationality and leave the city.
“Beijing would see that as a loss of face, as well as affecting public confidence in Hong Kong’s future,” Lam said. “Semi-official figures in Beijing have mentioned the possibility that the BNO won’t be recognized as a travel document [by China].”
“If too many people apply for BNO or leave Hong Kong … it could undermine confidence,” he said.
During the HKPOP polling period, the Hong Kong authorities also tightened COVID-19 restrictions, with powers available to require lockdowns and emergency testing.
Pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai was denied bail and remanded in custody, while democracy activists Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam, and Agnes Chow were handed jail terms ranging from seven to 13.5 months.
Lai is being charged under the National Security Law for Hong Kong with calling on “overseas institutions, organizations and personnel to impose sanctions or take other hostile actions against Hong Kong or China” between July 1 and Dec. 1, 2020.
Prosecutors cite interviews he gave to foreign media organizations, including RFA, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Fox News, as well as comments and accounts he followed on Twitter.
During the polling period, Carrie Lam also delivered her policy address, heralding changes from the Education Bureau that will turn Liberal Studies in secondary schools into something more closely resembling the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s preferred program of “patriotic education,” complete with school trips to mainland China.
The High Court ruled that police officers not displaying their identification numbers violated the Bill of Rights, while China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee disqualified four pro-democracy lawmakers, prompting the mass resignation of all opposition members of the Legislative Council (LegCo).