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The Legislature and the Executive in Hong Kong By Dr Ming SING Dept. of Public & Social Administration, City University of Hong Kong

Enhancing Democratic Participation Project 2003 Published by Civic Exchange - March 2003

Legislative-Executive Relations

selected through more narrowly-based electoral methods.

Part 1: The Legislature 1. How is the executive formed? Between 1974 and 2001, the number of democracies in the world increased from 39 to 121. This trend reflects the multiple and diverse benefits of democracy in enhancing freedoms, political equality, economic growth and quality of life, as well as reducing domestic instability and wars.

In democracies, the top political leaders are selected through elections in which all adult citizens are entitled to vote under universal adult suffrage. Elections in democracies aim to translate the freely expressed political will of the people into a workable representative institution. Democratic systems that employ universal adult suffrage are the most credible system of governance in the modern world.

In a democracy, the legislature is elected by citizens under universal suffrage. Legislatures make laws, represent citizens and groups and consider their worries and priorities in policy-making processes. They also monitor the executive branch of a government by ensuring that laws and programmes are executed legally, effectively and in accordance with legislative intent.

Part 2: Hong Kong’s Political System

Hong Kong has never enjoyed a fully democratic system. At present, of the 60 legislators, only 24 were produced by direct elections, while the rest were

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is dominated by the executive, which includes the Chief Executive (CE), principal officials appointed by the CE and the key governing institutions. A 400-member Election Committee (EC) selected the CE in 1996 under a process supervised by the Chinese Government. He was formally appointed by the Central Government and assumed power on 1 July 1997 for a five-year term. As the incumbent was the sole candidate for selection in 2002, there was no need for selection by an expanded 800-member EC to take place. 2. How does LegCo play its role? The power of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) has been far more limited than that of the legislature in modern democracies. Post-1997, two additional debilitating mechanisms have been instituted: • Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) – pre-1997, legislators could raise PMBs provided they had no financial implications for public expenditure. Post-1997, PMBs must not have policy or financial implications. • Split Voting – pre-1997, LegCo voted as one

body. Post-1997, legislators vote in two groups for the motions and bills they propose. The 30 functional constituency members vote as one group and other members vote as a second group. To pass, a majority in both groups is needed.

the executive are formed? • What reforms would you like to see and why? • When do you think it is appropriate to make changes?

Enhancing Democratic Participation Project 2003 Part 3: Problems with the Current System The CE, who is appointed by the Central People’s Government, is widely perceived by the Hong Kong public as being more accountable to Beijing’s interests than to Hong Kong’s. Moreover, the ability of the current CE to be an effective political leader is hindered by his lack of an electoral mandate. He must also deal with the partially directly elected LegCo, which can claim greater public support. Faced with inexperience and lack of public mandate via the ballot box, the CE and the principal officials have at times been indecisive in making tough policy choices, which has further eroded their credibility. At the same time, although LegCo can claim to be more representative than the executive, it does not have the power to exert effective influence on policymaking. It is difficult for either the executive or the legislature to perform well under the current undemocratic and awkward political system.

This pamphlet is written and produced as a part of Civic Exchange’s Enhancing Democratic Participation Project 2003. We have invited scholars and experts to help frame some key issues relating to Hong Kong’s democratic development. These papers and pamphlets can be used to enrich community deliberation. A commissioned survey will also be carried out and results published. We encourage people to organise their own gatherings to discuss issues relating to democratic development. By way of assistance, modest funding may be available. We also link groups to professional facilitators who may be able to help them design and manage gatherings in a democratic manner. We hope this Project helps people to think about and practise democracy. Civic Exchange will record the entire process and publish a final report to share observations gained from the Project before the end of 2003. For further information call Ms. Yip Yan Yan at 2893-0213 or email

PART 4: Issues for Discussion • What do you think about the way LegCo and

An electronic version of all the papers and pamphlets can be found at


body. Post-1997, legislators vote in two groups for the motions and bills they propose. The 30 functional constituency members vote...


body. Post-1997, legislators vote in two groups for the motions and bills they propose. The 30 functional constituency members vote...