Academic journal article China Perspectives

Executive-Legislative Disconnection in Post-Colonial Hong Kong: The Dysfunction of the HKSAR's Executive-Dominant System, 1997-2012

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Executive-Legislative Disconnection in Post-Colonial Hong Kong: The Dysfunction of the HKSAR's Executive-Dominant System, 1997-2012

Article excerpt

Since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Re- gion (HKSAR) on 1 July 1997, "governance crisis" has become the most popular term used by local politicians and academics to de- scribe the politics of post-colonial Hong Kong. If "governance" is defined as "the capacity of government to make and implement policy,"(1) then it is obvious that Hong Kong is experiencing a general decline in the quality of governance under Chinese sovereignty: the HKSAR government appears to be incapable of assembling a stable legislative majority for its policy ini- tiatives, and in the face of criticisms and challenges from the Legislative Council, postponement or even withdrawal of legislative proposals is not uncommon. (2)

Paradoxically, Hong Kong's system of governance has traditionally been described as an "executive-dominant system" (xingzheng zhudao) since the old colonial days, and under the constitutional design of the Basic Law, the HKSAR Chief Executive was supposed to maintain this executive-dominant style of governance after 1997. In other words, executive-legislative tensions and disharmony are clearly something not anticipated by the drafters of the Basic Law.(3) Why has the HKSAR government, in spite of the wide-rang- ing constitutional powers conferred upon it by the Basic Law and the in- stallation of a pro-government majority in the Legislative Council, failed to maintain the executive-dominant system since 1997?

The principal argument of this article is that the dysfunction of the exec- utive-dominant system in post-colonial Hong Kong is the result of Beijing's resistance to the development of party-based government, which results in a fragile coalition between the non-partisan Chief Executive and pro-gov- ernment parties. The reminder of this article will be divided into four sections. Firstly, I will discuss the notion of executive dominance in Western demo- cratic contexts. Secondly, I will trace the legacy of executive dominance in colonial Hong Kong. Thirdly, I will discuss Beijing's strategies for maintaining executive dominance after 1997. Fourthly, I will examine why since 1997 the Chief Executive has failed to command the pro-government majority in the Legislative Council and struggles to uphold executive dominance. The conclusion section of this article argues the pressing need for the HKSAR government to develop some form of party-based government.

Executive dominance in comparative perspective: The Western experiences

In the discussion of executive-legislative relations, the notion of executive dominance could be defined as the executive holding a dominant position vis-à-vis the legislature over the legislative process, i.e., the capacity of the executive to control the legislative agenda and get its proposal accepted by the legislature. (4) This concept was pioneered by Arend Lijphart, who de- scribed executive dominance and executive-legislative balance as the two major patterns of executive-legislative relations in modern democracies. (5)

According to Lijphart, executive dominance is most commonly found in parliamentary systems, in which the executive is normally backed by a leg- islative majority and can count on its support to stay in office and get its legislative proposals approved. As such, the executive is clearly dominant vis-à-vis the legislature.(6)On the other hand, executive-legislative balance is more common in presidential systems, under which a kind of power-shar- ing between the executive and the legislature over policy-making is essen- tial in order to get legislative proposals passed. (7)

Nevertheless, Lijphart and subsequent political scientists have pointed out that the parliamentary-presidential distinction does not directly de- termine the relative power of the executive and the legislature in modern democracies, because in practice parliamentary systems vary widely in the balance of power between the executive and the legislature, and so do presidential systems. …

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