President Xi Jinping is expected to stay in office beyond 2023 after lifting constitutional restrictions on term limits. Judy Chan Ka-pui of the New People’s Party thinks Hong Kong should consider doing the same with the chief executive.
She needn’t bother. The problem with chief executives is not that they might need to stay longer to finish their agendas. Rather, it is that since the 1997 handover, no one has managed to serve the two full terms – or 10 years – in the top post. Tung Chee-hwa quit during his second term; Donald Tsang Yam-kuen served seven years; and Leung Chun-ying threw in the towel as his first term ended. We will see how long our current chief Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor lasts.
Chan made the comment during a public debate with other candidates for the Hong Kong Island seat in this Sunday’s Legislative Council by-election. She argued that the constitutional amendment was good for China because it could lend continuity to government policies, rather than risking a successor undoing everything the previous administration had achieved.
That does not seem to be an issue for us. It appears that each SAR administration has failed to articulate convincing policies and then execute them effectively. Policy secretaries and chief executives have been more like problem solvers as and when problems present themselves, rather than anticipating them. There is hardly any question of policy continuity, other than that unresolved problems such as those in housing, education, health care and retirement pensions just pile up.
Meanwhile, regardless of competence, the political reality is that the chief executive is handicapped from the start. The failure of electoral reform means the opposition will always be able to claim the chief executive has no mandate and may be legitimately opposed, regardless of the merits of particular policy initiatives launched by the government.
An opposition with no hope of taking power is nevertheless in a position to cause mischief to the cheers of their diehard supporters, though not necessarily in the interests of the city.
Sadly, given Xi’s expected long stay in office and the radicalisation of the local opposition, no one really sees a way out of the impasse. Things are likely to get worse.
So the job of the chief executive will just become more difficult, if not impossible. Serving beyond two terms? Lam will be lucky if she lasts that long.