Letter to Hong Kong

The appointment of two new members into the Executive Council and the new political landscape in the Legislative Council has been the latest talk of the town. In a desperate attempt to breathe fresh air into the cabinet, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hua appointed legislator Mr. Bernard Chan and Mrs. Laura Cha into the Executive Council. To Mr. Tung, the appointment would bring opinions from different sectors of the community to his cabinet, and that Exco’s decisions would be more in line with the public’s interests.

The new Legco is posing greater challenge for the Tung administration. With 25 democrats, pro-government legislators eager to be seen as distant from the administration, as well as the ‘critical minority’ keen to exhibit its ‘critical significance’, legislators will give Tung and his ministers a hard time securing Legco support. Prompted by the need to make sure that government policies and bills are passed in the increasingly assertive LegCo, Tung appointed Mr. Chan from the ‘critical minority’ camp. Mr. Chan is a member of The Alliance which was believed to have backed Emily Lau’s chairmanship of the Finance Committee and stirred up a hornet’s nest. The appointment might also have stemmed from the consideration that he represents both the business sectors and the welfare sectors. Speculation was rife that Mr. Tung had approached Mr. Leong Kah-kit from the Article 45 Concern Group to join his cabinet, though what actually happened is anyone’s guess. Attempts to include dissenting voices in his cabinet, let alone like-minded people, will only tinker at the edges, and will do little to significantly improve governance.

It is high time for Mr. Tung to do some serious soul-searching. The National Security legislation saga ended in the dramatic resignation of Mr. James Tien from the Executive Council. The government’s lack of legitimacy and its unpopular policies have made Tung’s allies waver. Uncertain of securing Legco support for government policies, the only means left is to appoint Legco members to Exco to secure their votes. But a close tie with the administration is a kiss of death, and it is doubtful whether this will secure votes.

The ability of the Tung administration to improve governance hinges on its political will to get to the root of the problem. For Legco to assume a more meaningful role than a mere talk shop, the systemic flaw has to be rectified immediately. The majority of Legco is elected by a small section of the electorate while a majority of the electorate has resulted in a minority part of Legco. 62% of all the votes went to the democrats but only 25 of them were elected. This lopsided system warrants an immediate review. Only an entire legislature returned by direct elections will enable the public’s views to be fully reflected in the legislature, and give the public a genuine say in policymaking.

Tung is facing a more assertive and pro-active Legco in a highly charged political environment, and a cabinet reshuffle will do little to confer the legitimacy badly needed by the administration, which can only be achieved by direct election of the Chief Executive. More than 60% of the votes in the Legislative Council election were cast for democrats whose platform include direct election of the Chief Executive in 2007 and direct election of the entire legislature in 2008. This is a resounding call for full democracy and should be taken seriously.

But there is still a long way to go. Rumours were rife that the central government liaison office had intervened in Legco’s internal affairs. Thinking that the Public Accounts Committee and the Constitutional Affairs Panel should be kept tightly under control, the liaison office meddled in the negotiations of the chairmanships of these committees. Apart from undermining confidence in Hong Kong’s autonomy and the principle of ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong’, Beijing’s interference in Legco also reflects how little trust Beijing has in the people of Hong Kong. The democrats have been rational and have never threatened to block proposals from the administration for the sake of opposition. The fear that the pan-democrats will paralyse the administration, or embarrass it for no reason is largely unfounded.

The maturity and rationality of the Hong Kong people can be seen in the September Legco election and the 1 July march in the last two years. Not only are they ready for democracy, they also want their call for direct elections to be heard by taking to the street and through the ballot box. And they are looking forward to the time when their call is heeded. It is high time to trust the people of Hong Kong and revisit the decision of the National People’s Congress to rule out direct elections in 2007 and 2008.