Political party system will work in Hong Kong

Frank Ching says Beijing has every reason to welcome a political party system here, not least because it will make the city governable

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:47am

Recurrent rumours that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will be dumped by Beijing reflect not reality, but dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong government. But the problems have more to do with the system than the individual.

The first two chief executives, Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, suffered public opprobrium too. As long as the chief executive is not popularly elected, he or she will not be seen as legitimate. And as long as the chief executive is not supported by a majority in the Legislative Council, there will always be problems of governance.

The Basic Law was drafted with the idea of continuing the executive-led government created by the British. But that system worked because it was a dictatorship, albeit a benevolent one.

China insisted on the continuation of an executive-led government after 1997 while agreeing to an elected legislature. That created an unworkable system. Even if, by 2020, both the chief executive and the entire legislature are elected by universal suffrage, Hong Kong may still be ungovernable if there is no linkage between the executive and the legislature. Every government needs a parliamentary majority.

The question is whether a democratic Hong Kong will institute a presidential or parliamentary system. What is prescribed in the Basic Law is closer to a presidential system, like that in the US. But there, a president can get things done only if his political party also controls the congress. If the opposition party controls it - or even just one of the two houses, as is currently the case - the result is often deadlock.

In a parliamentary system, however, the executive by definition controls the legislature and hence has little difficulty getting its programme passed.

If Beijing is serious about wanting the Hong Kong government to run smoothly, then it should back a system in which the government will be in the hands of the biggest political party, or a coalition.

Currently, the biggest political party, both in terms of party membership and of seats in Legco, is the pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Beijing has little to fear since the DAB has demonstrated its grass-roots support and its ability to win seats in both the district councils and Legco.

But a one-party system will not be accepted either by the people of Hong Kong or internationally as a democracy. There is a need for a credible opposition party, such as a much stronger Democratic Party.

The Democrats conducted negotiations with the central government's liaison office and subsequently backed the 2010 electoral package. They could not have done so if the party did not enjoy a wide popular base. The current fragmentation of the pro-democracy camp is not good either for Hong Kong or for the central government.

After all, Beijing needs a credible opposition party in Hong Kong that can conduct negotiations and deliver votes.

A thriving political party system would serve the interests of both Hong Kong and Beijing. That should be China's goal.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank.ching@scmp.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1