A political system heading for collapse

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 1:57am

Are we on an inexorable, if protracted, path towards universal suffrage or can it be reversed through political repression?

The authority and power of the Hong Kong government are being diminished by the day. Its top officials are mocked and ridiculed. If our government cannot do its job, someone eventually will have to take over.

Will that someone be chosen through direct election by the people or by direct appointment as an emissary of Beijing? Or will the current corrosive state of affairs - with an ineffectual government, an angry and disaffected public and a frustrated Beijing - drag on while our city sinks into a long-term decline?

It is so easy nowadays to round on the government, from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and further down the ranks. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Our ministers and senior civil servants are, as a whole, not necessarily worse than the British colonial mandarins of old, their contemporary counterparts on the mainland or top officials in similar positions in other countries (democratic or not). What they don't have is, on one hand, the ability to censor and shut citizens up, and on the other a recognised electoral mandate to govern and pursue policies, popular or not.

They have, in other words, the worst of both worlds. Under such circumstances, no one can govern effectively. Common sense says something has to give.

Social scientists often distinguish between society and state. In Hong Kong, we have a thoroughly democratic society coupled with a non-democratic state. Either the government becomes legitimately democratic or our society may become undemocratic again through the most extraordinary repression. The latter will be the last resort for Beijing, but it is a distinct albeit remote possibility.

As Hong Kong citizens, it is our responsibility to make sure this will never happen. We need to avoid excessive provocation of Beijing and work out a feasible constitutional reform package to achieve universal suffrage. This will require compromise and goodwill among the more forward-looking and moderate figures in our government, and within the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps. Sadly, at the moment, it's hard to see that happening.