22 October 2016
Tung Chee-hwa is acutely aware of the Communist Party’s aversion to rule by any political party other than its own. This is why the Basic Law says what it says. Photo: HKEJ
Tung Chee-hwa is acutely aware of the Communist Party’s aversion to rule by any political party other than its own. This is why the Basic Law says what it says. Photo: HKEJ

Why Tung Chee-hwa won’t come to the party

Former (and failed) chief executive Tung Chee-hwa made a valid observation this week, even though, rather typically, he failed to take it to its logical conclusion. 

But it is hard to argue with his contention that it’s difficult for the chief executive to govern without political support in Legco.

The logic of his contention is pretty obvious to everyone but himself, namely, that the chief executive needs to be the head of a political party with a majority of seats in the legislature.

The Basic Law’s insistence that not only the CE but also his policy secretaries must not have political party affiliations is nonsense.

However, Tung is acutely aware of the Chinese Communist Party’s aversion to rule by any political party other than its own and this is why the Basic Law says what it says.

The net result is to build dysfunctionality into the heart of government because not only can the CE not rely on the support of legislators but they have inherently different interests because half of them are elected by something approaching a democratic system while the chief executive needs only the mandate of Beijing, which is served up in the form of a farcical “election”, among a small circle of electors who only vote the way that Beijing tells them to vote.

This dysfunctionality is compounded by the way Legco is composed and elected; a very poor legacy of British rule.

When the Brits started introducing universal suffrage into the election of legislators, they were terrified by the backlash it produced among Hong Kong’s powerful elite who rightly feared that if Legco were indeed to be wholly elected by the people, their handpicked representatives would fare badly at the polls.

Thus the rotten boroughs, otherwise known as the functional constituencies, were retained and occupy half the seats in the legislature, a more or less sure recipe for frequent stalemate.

All this is very well known but there is less comment about another aspect of British trickery in the Legco elections.

This consists of the absurd system in which tiny Hong Kong is divided into a mere five constituencies where a complex proportional voting system allows the election of candidates with only modest support.

This ploy was devised because of fears that in a free and open election, the democrats would sweep the board, excluding pro-government candidates from Legco.

However times have changed and the pro-government DAB has emerged as Hong Kong’s largest and most successful party.

Nowadays, it too is frustrated by the fact that its large level of support is not reflected in the number of geographic constituency seats it holds.

The British-devised system ensures that legislators who garner little more than a modest proportion of the vote are able to occupy a disproportionate number of seats.

This produces an even more divided Legco and a strong incentive for those who cater to quite a small constituency of voters to pursue their interests.

Logic dictates that the CE would be far more effective with not just a popular mandate but with the solid backing of a political party.

It also dictates that in a small place like Hong Kong, there is a need for a far larger number of constituencies, delivering just one member each to Legco.

This system would be better able to reflect the popular mandate.

People like Tung think the problem can be solved by forcing the pro-government parties to be more slavish in their support for the government but even they know that if they are to win votes in the part of the election where genuine universal suffrage applies, they cannot possibly support every crackpot action of the government, especially when the administration is led by a deeply unpopular figure such as CY Leung.

Meanwhile, Tung and other pro-Beijing figures will carry on whining about the awfulness of Legco and the general malaise in government.

Yet they have not the slightest intention of fixing the institutionalized dysfunctionality that gives rise to this problem.

There are no prizes for guessing where all this is heading.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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