Joshua Wong (left) and Leung Chun-ying. Photos: SCMP
The View
by Peter Guy
The View
by Peter Guy

Time for new leadership in Hong Kong

To mitigate the threats from the Occupy protest, HK should have a directly elected legislature with the chief executive appointed by Beijing

In , Leo Tolstoy played down the role of human agency in shaping events, writing that "a king is history's slave".

Historical events can easily overtake any leader and civil disobedience evolve into civil resistance as government and business leaders refuse to understand and respond to events.

Seen in that context, the threats that confront Hong Kong's economy and society are likely only to worsen.

For a taste of how the young generation sees that confrontation shaping up, read the article written by Occupy Central's teenage talisman, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, published in the on October 29.

"I would like to remind every member of the ruling class in Hong Kong. Today you are depriving us of our future, but the day will come when we decide your future. No matter what happens to the protest movement, we will reclaim the democracy that belongs to us, because time is on our side."

For some, this is effectively a declaration of war on Hong Kong's business and government elite. It is smarter to think about it as the core of a manifesto for change in this city. Because when a teenage student can inspire and communicate to people better than any of the government and business leaders, it is time to conclude that the city's elite is incapable of producing respectable and credible leaders.

Only bold reform will prevent Hong Kong and the mainland from becoming two peoples

Occupy Central has proven that the concept of having this capital of global commerce led by a business-oriented government now lies in tatters. And that is no surprise because business people are uniquely unqualified for governing societies. Tycoons cannot easily comprehend the swelling tide of important political and social forces.

Debating change within the stifling borders of the Basic Law has become a dreary affair. Playing with the functional constituencies and nomination committee rules does not deliver anything close to a truly representative government.

Since 1997, Hong Kong and the mainland have changed much faster and differently than anticipated. In 1997, some thought the city would lead the mainland into the world. Today, the mainland is a global leader and no Hong Kong business or government leader makes much of a difference to the country at large. The only sensible solution is to scrap our present form of government and replace it with a system where the chief executive is appointed directly by the central government.

While doubtlessly an unpopular idea, the advantage is that such a chief executive would be a bureaucrat and probably from the foreign service. He would be like a colonial British governor without the career baggage of entrenched local relationships and loyalties and would have to work through an elected legislature.

We should also dismantle functional constituencies and corporate block voting and replace them with representatives of geographic districts elected by one person, one vote to a new Legislative Council. The new Legco and the chief executive could table legislation.

The chief executive would appoint a cabinet from a mix of Legco members and approved non-elected officials. This would cultivate true democratic development of respected institutions while giving the chief executive veto power that Beijing would feel its interests protected.

And like the president of the United States, the chief executive would have to be careful about exercising veto power lest he precipitate protests from legislators or spark another Occupy groundswell protest movement.

For all of its flaws, the US is a vibrant democracy in which elections matter. Even if a new system in Hong Kong may still not have a directly elected chief executive, the entire Legco would be. That seems to be a workable compromise. And we need one because Occupy's ideas will not diminish. The yearning howl of youth will echo down this generation and risks unsettling the city.

Only bold reform will prevent Hong Kong and the mainland from becoming two peoples between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Time for new leadership