Restoring governability in Hong Kong: managing plurality and joining up governance
Introduction The lack of social cohesion has long been recognized as a constraint on the governance capacity of Hong Kong following its reversion to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997 as a special administrative region (SAR).1 Economic decline triggered by the Asian financial crisis had undermined the government’s performance-based legitimacy inherited from the previous colonial administration. Fiscal stress had also exposed a government lacking democratic mandate and unable to fulfil expectations and demands. Though largely free of religious, racial, ethnic or even class conflicts, Hong Kong society has been embroiled in a political quagmire over the issue of democratization, which exploded through the anti-government protests by half a million people on 1 July 2003 and finally resulted in the departure of former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. In his final days, Tung had already recognized the need for social harmony, which also echoed the Chinese central government’s objective to achieve a harmonious society on the mainland of China. His successor, Donald Tsang, has emphasized the dual themes of strong governance and fostering harmony. In addition to external challenges, governance capacity in post-1997 Hong Kong has also suffered from intragovernmental tensions and instability caused partly by the volatile political scene and partly by ill-conceived reforms induced by the crisis of public finance. Within government, there were increasing risks of fragmentation and the weakening of institutional capacity, especially following the restructuring of the core executive in 2002.2 This chapter diagnoses Hong Kong’s crisis within the discourse on harmony, social cohesion and governance. It further explores whether an effective joined-up system of governance with a strong capacity to lead and steer is at all possible within the SAR’s constrained social, political and administrative environment that makes interconnectedness increasingly difficult to obtain and sustain. It argues that the design of the system of governance has to match the state of governability of the society.