Hong Kong will remain ungovernable without the vote

Michael Chugani says Hong Kong will remain mired in discord unless people are given a political system worthy of their maturity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 6:48am

Hong Kong has become ungovernable. This is not a flippant statement. It is a fact. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the chief executive has no mandate that satisfies today's political reality to govern effectively. A mandate mattered little before, when people believed they were powerless to change things. They now believe otherwise. Secondly, the government is clueless about what the people want.

When I say Hong Kong is ungovernable, I don't mean we have descended into anarchy. There is law and order in the streets, the courts are functioning as they should, the transport system is running and people are going about their normal lives. But the political structure from where all these offshoots grew no longer works. It started cracking in the final years of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's leadership.

Hong Kong's political structure is irreparably out of sync with the political maturity of its people. The two are like tectonic plates grinding against each other, triggering earthquakes that have become more and more frequent. The government structure is unable to understand the people and the people no longer believe in the structure.

What governance did you see in the final months of the Tsang administration, or so far under Leung Chun-ying? Tsang ended his leadership not with a grand exit but trying to convince the people he had not breached the ethical or moral rules of a system they no longer respected. Leung's short time in office has been defined not by strong leadership but by climbdowns. The biggest was, of course, on national education and the latest on mainlanders. A political storm over government plans for three new border towns has set the stage for yet another climbdown.

It took prolonged public outrage against national education and a flare-up in Sheung Shui against mainland parallel goods smugglers before the Leung administration finally understood the public mood in each case. Governance is conducted through hindsight rather than foresight.

Hong Kong has evolved politically to the point where decisive leadership is impossible without the leader having a popular mandate. The Tsang administration was unable to impose something as simple and environmentally friendly as the idling- engine ban without it first being made virtually toothless by vested interests in the Legislative Council. Leung couldn't get Legco to back changes to the make-up of his administration. A popular mandate would have given both leaders the clout and moral authority to push through such policies.

In colonial times, appointment by the queen gave our governors all the mandate they needed. Tung Chee-hwa's mandate came from then president Jiang Zemin's very public handshake, which was meant as a clear message our new sovereign wanted him as Hong Kong's leader. But 15 years on, Leung's mandate of 689 votes in a small-circle election draws derision rather than deference.

Expect more earthquakes in the five years leading up to universal suffrage for the chief executive election as the tectonic plates of Legco, the government and the people collide.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com