Legalise political parties to ensure transparency

Stephen Vines says we need to be able to get rid of politicians who fail

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 4:11am

There can hardly be a clearer example of the dysfunctional nature of Hong Kong's political system than the chief executive's mind-boggling insistence that he intends to take part in the anti-Occupy Central campaign in a personal capacity.

Rather more worrying is his insistence that "every government worker and law-abiding citizen" should also "oppose such a large-scale illegal act".

Leung Chun-ying previously stated that it was up to individual civil servants to decide whether they wanted to join the campaign but he is now saying "that's an attitude we, as government officials, should have". He has implied that officials, who might have "wrong" attitudes, should think again. Yet somehow they are only required to join the campaign in an "individual capacity".

How on earth can the head of government declare that he is getting involved in politics in "an individual capacity" while insisting that all other public servants join him?

Were the chief executive a popularly elected official, he would be expected to get involved in politics and no one would bat an eyelid. However, Hong Kong government officials are supposed to be non-political and are not supposed to see their function as contributing to the polarisation of a community that is deeply divided on the issue of constitutional reform. The paper-thin excuse that Occupy Central has nothing to with politics and is merely a law and order issue beggars belief.

However, it accurately reflects the bizarre state of affairs where the head of government is supposed to be above politics and there is no way of treating political parties as legal entities. Yet they exist - even though the most influential party denies it exists and has no visible structure.

The British rulers of Hong Kong were reluctant to legalise political parties because of fears over the activities of the Communist Party, masquerading under the title of the Hong Kong and Macau Work Committee, which in turn was in open conflict with local supporters of the Kuomintang.

Fast forward to today and a clandestine Communist Party is still here containing very influential members who make every effort to disguise their membership. However, the party does have a public manifestation in the form of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, many new political parties have sprung up and, in the bizarre world of Hong Kong regulation, are allowed to operate as long as they pretend to be commercial organisations.

Hong Kong needs to legalise political parties. Legislation should provide the framework for the operation of parties and include provisos to ensure the transparency of their operations and specify the parameters within which they are allowed to work. There is nothing exceptional about this; indeed it is commonplace throughout the world.

Equally important, a proper political system would give the chief executive an opportunity to secure a working majority in Legco to overcome consistent stalemate.

But Beijing does not want a proper political system because it is happy with having its loyal cadres in place, some of whom are Communist Party members and others who are not but are rigidly loyal to the party.

Implausibly, it is argued that chaos will ensue if parties are allowed to run the government after being elected to do so. The anti-democrats lovingly trot out familiar stories of the shortcomings, scandals and problems that are part of the elected political process. All of this is true but there is no getting away from the simple fact that for all its many faults, this system of government works, not least because the public has a right to get rid of those who fail.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur