Controversial HK pollster to go it alone after ending 28-year link with city’s oldest university

24-Apr-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:38 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s leading pollster has announced he is branching out on his own, ending a 28-year association with the city’s oldest university.

Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, the director and founder of the public opinion programme at the University of Hong Kong, said the opinion poll institute would become an independent body this summer.

But both Chung and the university said there were practical rather than political reasons for the decision to end the programme, which has been criticised in the past for releasing surveys unfavourable to the city’s leaders.

Chung, 61, who founded the university programme in 1991, had his service extended after he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 in 2017.

On Tuesday, he said he would not extend his contract when it expires in July, when he will set up the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute to take over from his previous operation.

The veteran pollster conducted some of the most widely quoted polls over the years, including the chief executive’s popularity ratings, election exit polls, and Hongkongers’ identity surveys.

Chung said he had been honoured to be associated with HKU over the past four decades since his days as a student, but felt it was time to move on.

“To describe my feeling, I hold no blame for anyone, no anger, and no regret at all,” he said. “For the past many years, I have kept asking myself, whether being labelled as part of HKU is something positive or negative?

“Did I gain more support or less for working under the umbrella of HKU? Frankly I can’t figure it out yet.”

Professor William Hayward, HKU’s dean of social science, said he had discussed what would happen with Chung as the date for his retirement drew near, and said the decision had nothing to do with the politically controversial nature of the pollster’s work. “Most research ventures at the university are tied to individual leaders, so Dr Chung is absolute leader of the public opinion programme, when he leaves HKU, it’s very difficult for HKU to continue with it,” Hayward said.

“If we were to continue, we would be in direct competition with our former colleague, and that doesn’t make too much sense.”

Chung admitted there would be a tough time ahead, as the new institute would need to crowdfund HK$6 million seed money to operate, and he hoped it could be financially sustainable after the first year, with income generated from research conducted for private companies.

“It would be a tough time, so for some free polls, we would conduct a crowdfunding campaign,” he said.

I never expect to receive support from the pro-Beijing or pro-establishment camp

Pollster Dr Robert Chung

Asked whether the new institute would be less influential without the university’s name attached, Chung said he had faith in the people of Hong Kong.

“I never expect to receive support from the pro-Beijing or pro-establishment camp, but I still believe in the importance on our work, and I have faith in Hong Kong people,” he said.

In 2000, Chung publicly accused then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa of pressuring him via “a special channel” to stop conducting survey on Tung’s popularity and the government’s credibility.

The saga, first revealed by Chung in a column for the Post, eventually forced the resignation of vice-chancellor Patrick Cheng Yiu-chung. It was later revealed that Tung’s closest aide, Andrew Lo Cheung-on, had questioned Chung’s role and the way the survey was being conducted, prompting widespread criticism of Tung for interfering with academic freedom.

Property tycoon Peter Lee Ka-kit attacked one of the programme’s polls in 2014 during a session in Beijing attended by Zhang Dejiang, the ex-chair of the Chinese top legislature National People’s Congress.

Lee criticised Chung for releasing polls at “critical moments” with findings unfavourable to then chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

Some pro-Beijing groups had also accused the programme of being influenced by foreign powers, and staged protests on the university campus calling for Chung to be fired.


Category: Hong Kong

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