Date
8 December 2016
The partisan gridlock is rooted in Hong Kong’s peculiar system which is neither a pure executive-led model nor a separation of powers commonly practised by western democracies. Photo: HKEJ
The partisan gridlock is rooted in Hong Kong’s peculiar system which is neither a pure executive-led model nor a separation of powers commonly practised by western democracies. Photo: HKEJ

Full universal suffrage the only way out of our woes

The recent oath-taking saga sparked by the Youngspiration duo and the walkout by the pro-establishment camp in Legco are the latest indication of the chaos in our legislature.

However, these incidents are far from coincidental. Rather, they all have their roots in the built-in flaws in our political system laid down by the Basic Law.

In fact, our system is neither a purely executive-led model adopted by the former British colonial administration nor a separation of powers commonly practised by western democracies.

Rather, our system is a hybrid of both. As a result, it fails to achieve either goal and hence our current political deadlock and low efficiency in governance.

When the Basic Law was drafted in the mid-1980s, Beijing wanted to copy the entire executive-led model of the British administration and apply it to Hong Kong after 1997.

However, at the request of some Hong Kong members of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, Beijing agreed to introduce more checks and balances to the Basic Law and allow more legislative oversight of the executive branch.

However, out of concern that the legislature might become too powerful and hinder the government, Beijing introduced some “counter-measures” to the executive branch so that it won’t be hamstrung by Legco in the future.

As a result, our political structure prescribed by the Basic Law is a peculiar system that is found nowhere else — it fails to achieve the executive-led model as intended by Beijing because the executive branch is simply not powerful enough.

Yet, it also fails to fully achieve checks and balances because our legislature is also hamstrung by some unique built-in features such as the functional constituencies and the split voting system.

To make things worse, the drafters of the Basic Law failed to foresee that popularly elected seats in Legco will fundamentally change the political landscape under which the chief executive can no longer control the legislature like the British governors did in the past.

In consequence, the government can no longer guarantee passage of its bills like it could before 1997 because Legco members now answer to their voters, whether in the functional or geographical constituency, not to the chief executive.

And the intense confrontation between the pro-democracy camp and the pro-establishment camp, something the Basic Law drafters also failed to foresee, has exacerbated the partisan gridlock in our legislature.

It has become increasingly difficult for Legco and the government to agree with each other on anything.

I believe the only way to break the political deadlock is to carry out full universal suffrage so that our lawmakers and our chief executive are elected with a clear mandate, and can work together on a common goal, which is to serve the best interests of the public.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 29

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/RA

Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

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