City Beat

Problems between Legco and Leung stretch to Beijing

Challenges to HK's executive-led political structure extend 'battlefield' to the north

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 5:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 1:02pm

When the chief executive and the chairman of the Legislative Council disagree over whether there's a problem between the executive and the legislature; when a glass is thrown at the chief executive during a Legco question-and-answer session; when the matter is reported to police; and when all pan-democrat lawmakers boycott a session … When all these things happen, it suggests there's more drama to come.

Those broken pieces of glass hurtling towards Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying illustrate well the tension between the two branches of Hong Kong's political structure.

Leung has insisted the problem is within Legco, where a few lawmakers are repeatedly using filibusters to block the government from functioning. But the problem could go beyond Legco.

At that chaotic Q&A session, Leung defiantly dismissed a call from James Tien Pei-chun, leader of the Liberal Party, for him to quit.

But the resignation of Hong Kong's chief executive is a decision not even Leung is able to take.

Leung's detractors never give up hope that what happened to Hong Kong's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, who resigned in 2005 after massive anti-government protests in 2003, could happen to Leung.

But recent gossip in political and media circles has it that Beijing learned a bitter lesson from Tung's resignation, and has since concluded it was a mistake to let him go. Since Tung quit, the public has come to believe they have the power to replace the chief executive by protesting, with the number of participants in the annual July 1 rally now seen by some as an indicator of whether the incumbent can hang on.

Beijing is getting tough on such beliefs. It not only ignored this year's July 1 rally - which organisers claim had the highest turnout in a decade, though police and academics dispute the figure - but it also prompted senior officials to warn that nothing would change its determination to implement universal suffrage in 2017 in accordance with the Basic Law.

Hongkongers know all too well that Beijing has the final say on the electoral arrangements.

So, when the Legco chamber becomes a battlefield in which the pan democrats block government bills to press for "genuine" universal suffrage, then the battlefield extends north, to Beijing.

This could explain why Leung sees the current situation as a problem not only between his administration and the legislature. After all, it is Beijing that favoured an executive-led structure, and it is this structure that is being challenged.

Former premier Wen Jiabao used to urge the former chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, to address deep-rooted problems such as widening inequality, as Beijing once believed the public could be pacified as long as their livelihood issues were settled.

That's unlikely to be the case in the run-up to 2017. The politics are overwhelming.