It's high time to end Hong Kong's era of bogged-down government
The city's political system is fundamentally flawed. We must grab the chance to change it
It's clear that political impasse is harming the effectiveness of Hong Kong's governance. It is easy to blame the three chief executives that have run the city since 1997 for their lack of a popular mandate or lack of competence, or both, but it oversimplifies the issue.
There's a lot to be said for securing political settlements through a majority vote, but it is no guarantee of competent governance, as is evident after elections elsewhere. A popular mandate also doesn't guarantee freedom from political deadlock; Washington's partisan divide is a high-profile example of that.
Even if by a matter of chance unquestionably the best people wound up as chief executive and Legco members, Hong Kong's system would still not work, as it is not designed to do so.
The chief executive has a constitutional monopoly on putting forward the government's policy agenda. He or she alone commands the 160,000-strong civil service. He or she also enjoys the unique advantage of assured media coverage, all the time. Yet he or she remains incapable of moving the Legco "mountain" because the chief executive and Legco members are accountable to fundamentally different constituencies.
The chief executive is elected by a small electoral college. Legco members come from constituencies, with widely varying numbers of voters.
Irrespective of how members are elected, they have no fear of opposing the chief executive's agenda, for none of them derives their authority from that source. They owe the chief executive no loyalty either, as there is no institutional link between them and the chief executive in the form of political parties.
Hong Kong's lack of a common power base between the executive branch and the legislature is unique in the world. It guarantees bogged-down government.
Pointing accusing fingers at those who drafted the Basic Law would be mean. No doubt, they did their job with the best of intentions. But the political scene was totally different.
We must therefore focus on the forthcoming constitutional reform and grab this invaluable opportunity for change. We should try to bring the executive branch and the legislature constitutionally closer, so they stand a better chance of functioning together on the basis of a common constituency.
Allowing the chief executive and all Legco members to be directly elected by universal suffrage is an essential first step. When voters have to shoulder the responsibility of electing a government that works, I believe most would vote more constructively; our voters are known to be pragmatic, well-educated and well-informed.
Direct elections are but the first step towards cultivating responsible government. Next, proportional representation should be replaced by a winner-takes-all electoral system, in phases if necessary. It would allow serious political parties to consolidate into broad-based political agencies. And potential candidates for chief executive should be allowed to form open alliances with political parties so voters can choose among governing alliances on an informed basis.
The current political blame game is seriously eroding the credibility of Hong Kong's nominal autonomy. We have lost 16 precious years. It is high time we acted together for constitutional change, irrespective of where we stand on the political spectrum.
Lam Woon-kwong is an Exco member and former chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission