Hong Kong’s chief executive should consider upgrading the “principal officials accountability system” – introduced by Tung Chee-hwa in 2002 to appoint illustrious worthies alongside administrative officers to take up policy secretary posts – to an inclusive “coalition government”.
Recruiting more lawmakers affiliated with the major political parties, including the Democratic Party, to join such a coalition cabinet would offer a chance to solve the present political conundrum.
Coalition governments are common in Europe; many countries there have had a proportional representation mechanism for decades. For example, the current German government, named as the third “grand coalition” since the second world war, is composed of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the Social Democrat SPD, thus securing a dominating majority (504 of 598 seats) in the 18th Bundestag.
There would be at least six advantages from having Hong Kong lawmakers, from both functional and geographical constituencies, and district councillors appointed to the position of chief secretary and more than half the ministerial posts (including deputy and assistant ranks) inside the 13 policy bureaus.
It would mean more politicians like Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai, Transport and Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung; and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Undersecretary Ronald Chan Ngok-pang inside the government.
The first advantage is that the chief executive would have more flexibility to negotiate with all those who faithfully support the “one country two systems” principle and recognise China’s unquestionable sovereignty over Hong Kong, so as to command a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council.
The recent oath-taking saga has revealed the Democratic Party’s consistent position in staying firmly away from the independence movement advocated by localists. The Democrats, in fact, had an excellent track record under the leadership of the late Szeto Wah for their patriotism as well as willingness to compromise with the government on many fronts. Moderates such as Fred Li Wah-ming and Sin Chung-kai would be ideal candidates to join a coalition government (after nominally resigning from the party) to represent the Democrats.
The more radical section of the party may disagree with such a move. However, unless they want to remain an opposition party forever, being assimilated into the coalition government is the only way to realise their goals regarding, say, social welfare and labour protection. In other words, only if the Democratic Party is willing to join a coalition government can it turn itself into a genuine political party.
This also applies to parties such as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee’s New People’s Party, the Liberal Party and the various groups within the functional constituencies. This is actually the second advantage of a coalition government, in that it provides a formal channel for parties to attain governing power under certain conditions, thus fulfilling their ambition to become policymakers.
Also, as these politicians have the chance to analyse issues from both sides, they would tend to be practical rather than radical, realistic rather than idealistic and pragmatic rather than hypocritical.
The third advantage would be evoking the general public’s sense of belonging, security, achievement and closeness to the government, given that a certain number of politicians elected by the public would now be working as policymakers to initiate concrete action to improve their livelihoods.
Furthermore, if this happened generation after generation, voters would tend to distance themselves from radicals who could paralyse the legislature. Any sensible voter would always prefer those who can actually take care of their interests over those who merely provide lip service.
The fourth merit is that there would be no need to amend the Basic Law. The chief executive would continue to have all the necessary discretion, subject to Beijing’s approval, to appoint people to fill various posts, at certain ranks, while deciding how long they should serve. Professionals and civil servants could still be appointed to take up posts as, say, secretary for justice, security, financial services and the civil service. These non-politicians would counterbalance the influence of their political peers, when necessary, through budgeting or voicing realistic concerns.
Moreover, in a case where a secretary committed a serious mistake, immediate resignation would still be an option to help relieve pressure on the government.
The fifth advantage, and the most important one, will be increasing the space for political compromise, in the sense that the chief executive would have plenty of bargaining chips (policy bureau posts) to negotiate with sensible political parties to engage in policy implementation for long-term stability and prosperity. This could alleviate confrontations between the establishment and opposition parties. This is also how coalition governments work in many countries.
In the wake of the independence movement, the chief executive needs to spend more time improving mainland-Hong Kong relations. The chief secretary should therefore shoulder more responsibility to oversee internal affairs, from housing policy to legislation on Article 23. Appointing a popularly elected person to take up this position and lead the coalition government could open more gateways for cooperation among reasonable political groups for a consensus. This is the sixth advantage, so that political pressure is not overly concentrated on the chief executive.
Without a breakthrough, Hong Kong might have to rely on selling souvenirs to make a living soon.
Keith K C Hui is a Hong Kong-based commentator