Governing coalition can help fix Hong Kong's fractured politics

Joseph Cheng says the chief executive needs majority support in Legco

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 2:39am

In recent months, the issue of political reform and the Leung Chun-ying administration's difficulties in implementing policies have raised an important question: how can we ensure effective governance in Hong Kong?

Some prominent pro-Beijing figures, like Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and Ng Hon-mun, have acknowledged that the election of the chief executive in 2017 by universal suffrage cannot afford to exclude pro-democracy candidates. Otherwise, the elected leader would lack the mandate to promote necessary reforms.

The government's recent failure to secure the Legislative Council's approval for landfill extensions highlighted that the chief executive needs the support of a stable majority in the legislature.

On important political questions, the Chinese leadership has a defined position, and the pro-establishment legislators naturally support the Hong Kong government. On issues like landfills, however, Beijing does not take a position and pro-establishment lawmakers know they have a freer hand to oppose the government.

Currently, the chief executive cannot belong to a political party and has no reliable support base in the legislature. Changing this rule is the first barrier that must be overcome.

Theoretically, the chief executive could be the leader of a political party before his election, and he would more or less retain his former party's support afterwards. But there are no guarantees; realpolitik is a matter of interests.

A governing coalition would seem the most effective way of ensuring stable majority support in the legislature. Chief executive election candidates have to demonstrate their respective support bases; voters want to know a candidate can secure the support of a majority of lawmakers after being elected.

If there is a genuinely competitive election in 2017, the community will certainly also want candidates to reveal their lists of proposed cabinet members. Someone who shows he or she can secure stable majority support in the legislature and has a team of credible, respected ministers will naturally have strong appeal.

Universal suffrage will push candidates to move to the centre of the political spectrum

Such a system would strengthen party politics and the parties, which would be in a much better position to recruit talent as they would be able to offer important positions to their key members.

Having a governing coalition may also offer opportunities for co-operation, even among those across the political divide. It is most likely that a governing coalition would consist of a number of political parties, and they would have to learn to co-operate.

Under certain circumstances, a chief executive may consider forming a grand coalition of pro-establishment and pro-democracy parties. This may reduce confrontation between the two camps, and enhance the influence of the moderates in both camps.

Universal suffrage will push candidates to move to the centre of the political spectrum in order to secure an absolute majority of votes. Legislators eager to join the government will also adopt a more moderate line to improve their chances of serving as ministers.

A follow-up question may be: what kind of electoral system would facilitate the formation of a stable governing coalition? In general, a single-seat constituency, first-past-the-post system helps to produce a two-party system, while a proportional representation system promotes the survival of small parties, making the formation of a governing coalition more difficult.

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong, is convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy