Opinion on Bicameral System as The Best Option for Hong Kong's Political Future
The debate about the Hong Kong government's political reform blueprint has neglected a crucial long-term model: the bicameral system in which the lower house would be the wholly directly-elected 60-member Legislative Council and a newly created 60-member upper house that will be composed of not only 40 members elected from functional constituencies (including District Councils) but also 20 members elected from the 1600-member Election Committee that will also select the Chief Executive. While the Business and Professionals Federation significantly reminded us of the idea of the bicameral system in June 2005, its proposal did not suggest that the second or the upper chamber should have the power of veto over bills passed by the lower chamber. To achieve the principles of maintaining "balanced representation," the executive-led government and business representation in the political system, the upper chamber which can be established in the year 2012 or 2017 should have such veto power.
Yet, to prevent the second chamber from being too powerful vis-a-vis the lower chamber, the number of vetoes can be restricted annually to, say, 3 to 5 times on the lower chamber's passed bills related to government expenditure and structure. If the separate voting mechanism persists in the Basic Law, both the Hong Kong government and the pan-democratic camp should consider a model that will maintain the existing features. Above all, if the central government in Beijing is concerned about a "powerful" and completely directly elected lower chamber, having the upper chamber enjoy the veto power over bills passed by the Legislative Council a number of times per year will arguably be in conformity with the tenet of gradual and orderly change. If a bill passed by the Legislative Council is vetoed by the upper chamber, both chambers can set up a joint committee along the US model to hammer out a solution on the controversial bill. This experiment will also conform to the tenet of reaching political consensus and achieving political harmony in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong needs to build up its own model of political reform. Although the task force on political reform issued its report number 5, its model remains too conservative and lacks a longer-term vision of Hong Kong's political future.
Hong Kong's bicameral system needs not follow the Western model. The US Senate has powers to approve presidential appointments such as judges and ambassadors. The Hong Kong upper house can be confined to the veto power over bills passed by the lower house. Instead of being the chamber like the British House of Lords that delays the legislation passed by the House of Commons, the Hong Kong upper house can have greater and substantial power of veto over bills passed by the legislature. In short, the Hong Kong upper house can be more powerful than the British parliamentary model, but perhaps less powerful than the US Senate.
Unfortunately, neither the Hong Kong government nor the pan-democratic camp has so far proposed and discussed the model of the bicameral system in detail. Strictly speaking, the people of Hong Kong are politically mature and rational enough to participate in the political discourse about the bicameral model, which if implemented will mark the Hong Kong-style of democratization.
If the Strategic Development Committee set up by Chief Executive Donald Tsang will be entrusted with the task of discussing the bicameral model, its proposal should be urgently published for public consultation. Although the government proposal of augmenting the number of directly elected Legislative Councilors and of allowing District Council members to elect five legislators represent a very small step toward democratization in Hong Kong, the long-term bicameral blueprint is unfortunately ignored. The people of Hong Kong hope that there would be a faster pace of democratic reform, although according to a recent survey about 45 percent are satisfied with the government's current political reform proposal. Arguably, if the bicameral model is delineated by the Hong Kong government urgently, the territory's political debate will surely become more fruitful and conducive to the long-term development of representative government in Hong Kong. Due to the fact that the people of Hong Kong are politically mature, that the pan-democratic camp is politically moderate, that the Hong Kong government has the political will to move the polity forward, the bicameral model will achieve a win-win situation that will not only satisfy all sides but also fulfill the wishes of the central government in Beijing.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation.