Democracy is not a cure-all, says Tung

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am

Nations with votes for all still not perfect: ex-leader

Universal suffrage is not the solution to all of Hong Kong's problems, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has said.

'I can name many, many countries where there is universal suffrage but the tension between the executive and the legislative branches is enormous.

'So I would not like to say that universal suffrage is a solution to every problem,' said Mr Tung from the new office for former chief executives on Kennedy Road, Central, which cost HK$2.8 million to refurbish.

Mr Tung, now a vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - a position that puts him among the ranks of state leaders - was speaking during a wide-ranging interview with the South China Morning Post.

It was the first time he had spoken on post-handover affairs since stepping down as chief executive in 2005. Apart from openly endorsing his successor's handling of the question of universal suffrage, Mr Tung also commented on relations between the opposition and Beijing and the ministerial system.

The shipping tycoon-turned-politician was selected as the first post-handover leader in 1996, after years of bickering between the mainland and Britain over the changeover from London's to Beijing's rule.

Mr Tung's eight years as chief executive were not short of controversies, partly a result of his lacklustre political skills and partly because of events that were beyond Hong Kong's control. In the interview, Mr Tung said he had no qualms about his conservative outlook on democratisation.

'Hong Kong has gone through a great deal of difficulty over the last few years,' he said, citing the implementation of the 'one country, two systems' doctrine and the Asian financial crisis.

'These massive changes created a situation here in Hong Kong which has not been faced before. And these are really difficult issues. So the question we ask ourselves very often is, 'Would universal suffrage have solved these problems?' They may, but equally, they may not.

'You know I am a conservative person. But I agree with Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's suggestion for a good way forward. So let's work through this and see how it works. We will go towards universal suffrage, but we have to do it in accordance with the Basic Law.'

Mr Tung, who introduced the ministerial or 'accountability' system in 2002, which took policymaking from the civil service and gave it to political appointees, said the system was maturing. 'Hong Kong has a wonderful civil service. They're good, efficient, dedicated. We cannot be more lucky. The accountability system gives them the opportunities to move further along in political life.'

Asked if he thought the opposition would resolve its differences with Beijing, Mr Tung said: 'The doors of communication are always there. It is a question of really making an effort to understand what is happening on the mainland.'

He said the last 10 years had been a wonderful time for him.

'Hong Kong people have been wonderful in giving me this opportunity. The mainland has been wonderful to give me this opportunity to serve as the chief executive.

'And to be able to implement 'one country, two systems', and to be able to overcome all the challenges of Asian financial turmoil, the bursting of the asset bubble, then Sars. And to see the economy moving forward so well.'