Li making way for executive-led government

Bank of East Asia Chairman Dr the Hon Sir David Li Kwok-po, GBM, GBS, OBE, JP is to quit the Legislative Council. (And let’s not overlook Legion d’Honeur.) The longest-serving lawmaker announces his decision in a rather bitter-sounding interview with Sing Tao, and thus the Standard. He was probably going to stand down in the September elections anyway, but with the dawn of a new regime under Chief Executive-elect CY Leung, his departure is symbolic and possibly points to a bigger pattern.

Li has represented the Finance functional constituency in the legislature – a constituency with less than 150 corporate, or non-human, electors – since it was created in 1985. No-one has ever run against him, apart from a young whippersnapper in 2000, who lost by 89-32 votes. His main claim to fame was in having the legislature’s second-worst attendance record, though he made a point of dropping into the chamber for a few minutes on Wednesdays to be counted as present.

In the interview, he denounces politics as a waste of time and says he wishes he had never entered, complaining that “in the past what was said could actually be done [but now] there can be a change of plan at the last minute.” It is hard to resist interpreting this as a reference to Hong Kong’s favourite last-minute change of plan this year: the decision in late March by Beijing to have CY Leung rather than dim rich-kid and former Chief Secretary Henry Tang win the Chief Executive quasi-election.

When Henry officially declared himself a candidate last year, Li latched onto him as his ‘campaign manager’, just as he had with Donald Tsang in 2005 and 2007. It was a way to be identified as a firm supporter of Beijing’s chosen one and to bask in a bit of reflected glory – an ultimate example of intra-Hong Kong establishment shoe-shining. If anyone had any doubts that Henry was to be the next CE, Li’s endorsement sealed it. It was utterly unthinkable that David Li would back someone not bound to win in the charade. To Li – and for such pro-Donald ‘elite’ luminaries as Anthony Wu and Ron Arculli, and Sing Tao, and the civil servants who joined in the smearing of CY earlier this year – Beijing’s last-minute kowtow to public opinion and abandonment of Henry was a humiliating slap in the face, and indeed an overturning of their world.

Henry’s ‘campaign’ was a non-event that largely dispensed with glossy leaflets, hand-shaking and manifestos; what was the point, when the job was being handed to him on a plate? This sense of entitlement found among such movers and shakers comes through in Li’s moans about sometimes having to show up at the Legislative Council at 9am. He gets the seat unopposed, along with the relatively high position on page 6 of the Big Government List of Really, Really Important People, lots of medals, a special airport lounge and other perks, but God forbid you should actually sit on a bills committee or turn up to vote; that’s what ordinary folk do. (Similarly, ordinary folk resign from the Executive Council instantly when they get into an insider-trading case with the US Securities and Exchange Commission; Li departed the body only after Donald Tsang came under considerable public pressure, mainly about Hong Kong’s overseas reputation.)

In the interview, Li pretty much says he has selected his successor in the Legislative Council, giving the impression that he regards the Finance seat as his own property. This is half-true. It has been no secret in functional constituency (small) circles that he was intending to bequeath the seat to his own son – a plan that pissed off more than a few bankers, and which government officials feared would bring the ‘rotten borough’ system into greater disrepute than ever. It is the Bank of China group, which influences a generous number of votes in the tiny franchise, that has chosen Ng Leung-sing as the next lawmaker for the finance sector. The BoC is owned by the same government that ditched Henry at the final hour in late March.

Ng’s background is in a couple of Hong Kong’s less-known financial institutions, now merged into BoC, one catering for Fujianese, the other serving Indonesian-Chinese (the latter usually being the former). Li is of solid Cantonese stock, and UK-born. Ng was an appointed (and not inactive) legislator back in the 1990s, and, it goes without saying, a patriot, being a delegate to the National People’s Congress. Li, by contrast, can be outspoken and even led a group of bankers in suits on a march to protest the Beijing massacre in 1989.

The outcome: one more reliable and active pro-government legislator. This is a pattern that we may see repeated in one or two other functional constituencies easily manipulated by Beijing; perhaps the Sports and Culture FC, currently occupied by Timothy Fok, who has the legislature’s worst attendance record. The idea would be to make sure CY Leung has a more dependable and loyal support base within the legislative arm. Here is a South China Morning Post report from yesterday to put this in context…

Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying should strengthen the executive-led system of government after he takes office in July, a top adviser to Beijing says.

Zhu Yucheng , a former deputy director of Xinhua in Hong Kong, made the suggestion a day after pan-democrats succeeded in delaying a Legislative Council debate on a by-elections bill for the second week running.

“What we have to pay attention to now is the original meaning of ‘one country, two systems’,” Zhu said yesterday on the sidelines of the opening of Tsinghua University’s first Hong Kong and Macau affairs think tank. “The political system [of Hong Kong] is an executive-led system, not a separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary.

“Leung will have an advantage [in implementing this principle] as he did a large amount of research and investigation when the Basic Law was drafted.”

It is not the first time a Beijing official has said Hong Kong does not have separation of powers. It is ultimately true: the sovereign power can overrule our courts through ‘interpretation’ of the Basic Law, and it can veto Legislative Council votes through the essentially rigged nature of the Council’s composition. Indeed, it has to be so because no separate source of power can exist in a one-party state. But these comments suggest that CY Leung will be given the opportunity to wield greater executive clout than his predecessors. Along with a stronger loyalist bloc – expect dirty anti-democrats campaigns in the election in September – we may see revised parliamentary procedures to reduce legislators’ delaying tactics (like the current filibustering). The new administration would probably also like to curb the public’s use of judicial review as a means of pushing the government around, and it will no doubt also want to kick some bureaucrats into shape. That’s executive-led government.

If CY uses a slightly more Singaporean-style of control to push through popular and/or necessary measures, it would go down well. Vested interests, bureaucratic inertia, the constant need for compromise and consensus and plain lack of vision have left Hong Kong standing still in the last 15 years. But if he uses the extra clout to enforce unpopular decisions – with by-elections, filibustering and judicial reviews all off-limits as avenues of public resistance – it could mean trouble.

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17 Responses to Li making way for executive-led government

  1. Old Timer says:

    Even more shocking in today’s Standard is an ad by Nury Vittachi on P.12 selling ” a rare master-class in writing”, accompanied by a pic of him looking like Alan Zeman at an Ocean Park fundraiser.

  2. Walter De Havilland says:

    Nury Vittachi? Yes, I remember when he was funny. I’ve been in Hong Kong too long!

  3. Bela Lugosi says:

    Apart from Allen Lee, David Li is the funniest man in Hong Kong. Every pronouncement or public appearance is hilarious. Unlike Allen, David does not have the London Soho waiter/taxi driver English but he makes up for it with his Yoda-like cuddliness and barcode brilliantined combovers. He is/was the Les Dawson of the Pearl River Delta.

    You’re getting to be spot on about CY. The great man – our very first professional politician – said recently, when referring to filibustering:

    “We don’t have control of if and when legislators will use such tactics,” he said. “We also have no control on whether lawmakers attend or are absent from Legco meetings.”

    It’s all about…CONTROL. Which is exactly what these fockers need. Don’t you agree?

    All CY has to say is: “I’m going to kick the tycoons’ asses and make Hong Kong liveable” and he doesn’t have to worry about popular support. He’ll just have to worry about accommodating the cheerleaders.

  4. Third possibility. The stronger Executive-led authoritarianism is sold under the veneer of doing something, but it’s not really about implementing policy, good or bad. It’s the one-party true believers’ debutante ball and they don’t have to sit along the walls while the biz elite get elected dance king and queen. And like Ip Kwok-him suggested yesterday, it’s time we punish those that dare to stand up to the one true way. Can ya see Stephen Lam imagining slipping a studded garter on to HK’s leg before he slips out of town by ramming through his pet byelection bill? “It’ll be good for ya. You know you want it.”

    That if ATV or TVB dared to slip Mr Smith Goes To Washington on to TV before Wednesday, they’d have their broadcasting licenses/mainland landing rights yanked before Jimmy Stewart got to the floor of the Senate to filibuster.

  5. Wag says:

    Nury Vittachi teaching writing.

    Nick Leeson teaching financial management.

  6. Stephen says:

    @WDH

    Me too, way to long. However I seem to remember the back page of the Business Section of the then News Corp owned SCMP (prior to it becoming the PCMP / P = Pro) sometimes being funny due to Larry Feign’s World of Lily Wong cartoon not Vittachi.

    The David ‘Bankers’ Li seat is as tainted as the Jardine Matheson seat was in Colonial times. However I am wondering whether he selected his successor (first choice was his son) or someone else “advised” him ?

  7. Cantangarangabungawungarungajunga says:

    @Stephen

    I always thought that Larry Feign’s Lily Wong was rubbish – plain limp. Actually, a short while before The Stannit dropped the cartoon, I wrote to the “paper’s” editor and telling he/she so and suggesting they can it. I like to think I have improved the world. (In the late 90s, I wrote to the BBC’s chief of sport instructing them to retire veteran rugby commentator, Bill McLaren. A year or two later he was gone.)

  8. Real Tax Payer says:

    “Top banker and longest-serving legislator David Li Kwok-po ends his political career …..wishing he’d never started it 27 years ago.”

    We also all wish he’d never started it, slimy brown-nosed inside trader ( + Legion pas d’Honeur and Les Dawson of the PRD) that he is

    PS: @ BL : Did you mean Les Dawson or (Sir) Les Patterson ? I think Les Dawson would be offended to be compared in any way to David Li. But then again, I think Barry Humphries would also be offended to think that someone could behave worse in real life than ” Sir Les” does on stage.

  9. Chopped Onions says:

    Cantangarangabungawungarungajunga:
    your powers are incredible,can you write to CY and get him to retire Allan Zeeman pls,or better, ICAC and ask them to be serious about the kwoks, many thanks…

  10. Claw says:

    Cantangarangabungawungarungajunga.

    Better get your computer warmed up – you’re going to get a lot of requests!

  11. No Future For You says:

    On a completely unrelated note; those with a harbour view might like to crane their necks to catch that PLA Navy task force steaming into the harbour.

    Two missile destroyers, two support ships and what looks like an amphibious landing craft of some sort being escorted by a swarm of camouflaged helicopters, Victoria Harbour, right now.

    A well-choreographed display but for whose benefit? Things really getting that hot in the South China Sea?

  12. Mary Hinge says:

    No Future For You: That’s not a completely unrelated note. The show of force is for the filibusterers. “Stop the delaying tactics guys, or the LegCo Building gets it.”

    Hopefully David Li in his limo outside will cop some collateral damage.

  13. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Cantangarangabungawungarungajunga:

    I wrote to the HK Govt complaining about Henry’s basement and asking when BD would get serious . Guess that’s why the Central govt dropped him in the end.

    PS : I’m glad there is such a thing as cut n’ paste, even though your pen name overloads my clipboard.

  14. Bela Lugosi says:

    @RTP

    Les is a great hit down here and pushes up his coffin sometimes to go for a crate of brown ales and a Razzle. He agrees with you and said that Li is more like Ernie Wise.

  15. isomoliu says:

    Darn it, I was looking forward to all that entertainment and fodder for Hemmers & co. if Idiot No. 1 Son inherits the seat. Poof! Po Baby now learns that politics is but a dream. 

  16. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ BL

    I also love old Sir Les. Great character , especially when he dribbles and splurts.

    Now that does remind me of ‘Sir’ David ( Li) when he senses money……. 😉

  17. Incredulous says:

    I don’t find anything remotely funny about David Li. He is one of the most sickening , disgusting human beings (if you can call him that) ever to grace this planet. He personifies greed. He has this constant slavering expression that just says “Gimme, gimme EVERYTHING!” First to be up against the wall in my book. Revolting specimen.

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