Aping American democracy won't work in Hong Kong

Lau Nai-keung says some lawmakers misunderstand our own system

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 11:25pm

Along with the mandatory "one man, one vote", our dissidents have many prescriptions for the good governance of Hong Kong and the entire country. But with a general paucity of ideas, they invariably fall into the "US is best" category.

For example, they think China is too big for a unitary government and that it should adopt federalism to improve its governance. The problem is there is no evidence that governance in the US is in any way better than that in China, especially when we compare periods of similar economic levels.

Party politics is not a panacea and some kind of political coalition can be achieved with or without it

We have had a unitary government for over 2,000 years, have been the world's most powerful nation for 90 per cent of the time and are heading towards regaining that position soon. So, what is the point of artificially breaking it into independent states and reassembling them in the image of the US?

Here in Hong Kong, the dissidents say our political ills stem from a lack of party politics and the accompanying inter-party coalition. The problem, in a nutshell, is that we are an imperfect copy of the American system of separation of powers. The remedy, obviously, therefore, is to try to be a clone.

True to their word, our dissident lawmakers have not only copied the American filibuster, but have in fact improved on it, making it more frequent and effective.

There is also the issue of gerrymandering. Our dissidents are now busily taking notes. Vetoing the budget and forcing the government to close office might prove more potent than Occupy Central as a "weapon of mass destruction". Chances are we will witness some dissident copycat actions here in Hong Kong soon. Fortunately, this was anticipated in the drafting of the Basic Law and we have measures in place to deal with such eventualities.

Our dissidents lament that the lack of party politics and a coalition government have resulted in our chief executive having no control over outcomes in the Legislative Council. Now look at the US; it has mature party politics developed over 200 years, but with the president and members of the Congress elected separately, effective policymaking is by no means guaranteed. Party rivalries and political deadlocks are frequent.

Under our current system, party politics is not a panacea and some kind of political coalition can be achieved with or without it. The central government has always insisted that it is not a system of separation of powers, but an executive-led one. On top of that, Hong Kong is not an independent political entity, but a regional administration under a unitary central government.

No matter how many cosmetic operations we undergo, Hong Kong will never be a replica of the American system. This is the most fundamental underlying factor we have to bear in mind in our political discussion.

While we are at it, let us dive deeper into the idea of party politics. What, for instance, is the status of Hong Kong's People Power party in the country? This is an unsolved problem even for Taiwan, as while the blue Kuomintang still claims to have a national vision for China, the green Democratic Progressive Party does not. And what about the Chinese Communist Party and its role in capitalistic Hong Kong? Shall we allow it to operate here and participate in local elections? This is a big hornet's nest that we had better leave alone, at least for now.

All told, "one country, two systems" is an unprecedented endeavour. There is no clear trail to follow and we will have to find our own way out.

We should always have an open mind, and take a good look around us before we leap. Any careless move might just prove fatal.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development