Friendly fire

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 June, 2010, 12:00am

There is no such thing as a perfect political system, but one that produces paralysis has to be one of the worst kinds. That is why recent polls show continuous public disapproval of not just the government, but also political parties and politicians. How else are Hongkongers supposed to feel? We have legislators who show up for meetings only after 3pm - if they show up at all. There are the politicians who get elected and then resign just to get re-elected again. And, of course, we have politicians like the League of Social Democrats trio - 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, Albert Chan Wai-yip and Wong Yuk-man - who seem to mistake 'talking to hear themselves talk' for real work.

Our legislature has turned into the same circus we find on RTHK's City Forum: bipolar slug-fest politics. There is nothing inherently wrong with disagreeing out loud, just as there is nothing wrong with the government directly engaging the public. But instigating verbal and physical abuse cannot pass for deliberative politics.

While the fiercest debate is currently over the abolition of functional constituencies from the legislature, discussion about the future model for the election of the chief executive has, unfortunately, taken a back seat.

The chief executive, without a mandate, can do nothing right. Engage the public, and the government is damned for using public resources. But without garnering community support, there is no chance of changing the status quo and giving future chief executives the mandate they need to lead. Further crippling the chief executive from operating an effective 'executive-led' government is the ban on allowing our leader any political affiliation. There is no better time to discuss changing that.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's famous 'friends or foes' dichotomy isn't completely accurate. Chief executives banned from party politics can't have friends. As long as there is no ruling party to support the government in the legislature, all groups - including those deemed pro-government - are opposition parties. It would be wise to remember that the government's U-turn on 'fruit money' - old-age allowance - wasn't a result of flying bananas; it was the result of the largest 'pro-government' party's condemnation of the administration's stance. At best, pro-establishment parties are the chief executive's 'frenemies'; their supportive role is reduced to being the opposition to the opposition. Unless that changes, the chief executive could face opposition on any issue; it's open season in the legislature.

Foes organise mobs but so-called friends may not actually be friendly. Just look at how Alliance for Constitutional Development convenor, Executive Council member and trade unionist Cheng Yiu-tong - a perceived friend of Tsang's - has made a mess of plans to hold a rally to support the government's reform package. 'Friendly' help from Wan Chai district councillors Wong Wang-tai and Stephen Ng Kam-chun - by offering prospective demonstrators HK$30 seafood meals - ended up sabotaging the government's campaign. The chief executive has no control over what his friends do. And, more often than not, they make things worse for the government.

Political parties are intrinsic to every democratic political system, so we need to rethink our preference for a politically non-affiliated chief executive. Political parties can weed out the friends they are better off without.

When the office of the chief executive is open to political parties, they will begin to walk the talk, and voters can then demand accountability and productivity from politicians.

A chief executive without political party affiliation is a conductor without a wand, a horseman without reins, a leader without power or influence. No government can be led that way. A chief executive who is really just the chief scapegoat for every social and political problem will do nothing for Hong Kong.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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Friendly fire

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