The party line

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 May, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong has no law governing political parties and political groups, so most of them are registered either as limited companies or societies. There is no legal definition of a political party, and the current system does little to encourage the forming of a ruling party.

By nature, both the pro-government and pro-democracy parties are effectively playing an opposition role instead of acting as a ruling party. To win public support, they must pick on the administration over various policy issues.

In the Legislative Council, the chief executive has little clout to secure the majority's support for his policies no matter how good they are. Because he has no voice, he can't advance any polices.

As long as this system remains unchanged, no matter how capable the chief executive is, he will always face the same fate. And it has nothing to do with individual ability or governance style.

The proposed political reform package and consultation put forward by the government have not addressed this significant structural issue. Even if we had achieved full universal suffrage for both the chief executive and Legco, this deficiency in our political system would continue to be a huge stumbling block affecting governance. There would still be conflicts between the executive and legislative arms of power. Democracy is not a panacea for all our woes.

We cannot merely talk about political development and reform, or universal suffrage and the abolition of functional constituencies, without addressing the core issue of developing genuine party politics. Only in that way can we truly advance our political system. First, we need legislation to facilitate the development of political parties. Then we have to amend the current electoral law to allow politicians to run for chief executive in future. Once all this is in place, it will provide true meaning to 'one man, one vote', giving the chief executive the mandate he deserves to govern and realise his election promises.

Even in a fully elected legislature, with a chief executive elected through universal suffrage, the leader will face the same problem unless he or she has the support of enough lawmakers. Without a single vote in Legco, the chief executive will always have his hands tied: he will never be able to break long-standing political stalemates and move forward. Political parties will always have the upper hand, and whatever they do will be mostly driven by vested interests. The biggest loser will be the public.

None of the political parties, either pro- or anti-government, will unconditionally support the administration. In principle, the pro-establishment political parties will follow the central government on political issues. But when it comes to other matters, such as economic issues, it's a totally different ball game.

Many of them have close links with big businesses such as property developers, who are in effect the invisible political parties making behind-the-scenes moves to influence policymaking.

If we look at the controversial, cross-border express rail link issue, Beijing-backed legislator Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun abstained from voting during the funding process for the project. Pro-establishment politicians clearly are not obligated to support the administration in policymaking.

Nor will legislators ever give support without getting rewards in return. We now have a most undesirable situation where the government is stuck in the middle between opponents and uneasy allies.

If we really want to move our political system forward, we need to do more than just adopt the government's reform package or grant universal suffrage. To truly realise 'one country, two systems' and facilitate Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, the realistic option is to have legitimate party politics.

All political parties should have an equal opportunity to run in elections and the winning party should run the government. Real democracy is participative democracy, and the best government is one that is from the people, of the people and for the people.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator