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Reviewed by:
  • Contemporary Hong Kong Politics: Governance in the Post-1997 Era
  • Eilo Wing-yat Yu (bio)
Lam Wai-man, Percy Luen-tim Lui, Wilson Wong, and Ian Holliday, editors. Contemporary Hong Kong Politics: Governance in the Post-1997 Era. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007. xxiii, 300 pp. Paperback $35.00, ISBN 978-9-622-09829-9.

For students of Hong Kong politics, Norman Miner’s book The Government and Politics of Hong Kong is a must-read volume on colonial development.1 Since the retirement of Miner, no single text has covered the issues and events of Hong Kong postcolonial politics as comprehensively as his volume. The coedited volume by Lam, Lui, Wong, and Holliday adds information on Hong Kong politics up to the post-handover era and highlights important political events and governance issues in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

This volume is divided into four sections. The first section examines the political institution, namely, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches as well as the civil service and the local, advisory, and stationary bodies. Chapters in this section shed light on the challenges faced by the various government branches and agencies in the postcolonial era. The authors of these chapters conclude that the continuation of institutional reform is essential for good governance and political stability in the HKSAR. The authors contend that the authorities tried to regress the government institutions to the colonial format and style when the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, but that government institutions opened gradually during the transition period. For instance, the government was designed with a strong executive branch and a weak legislature branch. Political appointment was reintroduced in the District Councils (which were renamed from District Boards in 1999), and the two municipal councils were abolished, indicating that the HKSAR government aimed to enhance its ability to manage the administration by curbing public participation in selecting representatives for municipal affairs.

However, these attempts failed and actually led to governance problems. As Li Pang-Kwong argued, the executive branch lacked political leadership and failed to win the support of legislature or of the general public. At the same time, the new HKSAR leaders could not maintain good working relationships with the civil service, as described in Wilson Wong’s chapter. The advisory and stationary bodies were no substitute for public input in the policy process, and the political appointment in these bodies contributed to the dysfunction of the consultative system (see the chapter by Holliday and Hui). Although the Tung administration introduced the Accountability System for Principal Officials in 2002 and tried to improve its accountability to the public, this was not enough to resolve the conflict between the government, political actors, and other stakeholders in the polity. Finally, political stability was challenged as the court was turned into a place to handle political conflicts and disputes, as indicated in the chapters by Benny Tai and James Lee. The conclusion of this section is [End Page 443] that reforming government institutions is essential to solving this political dilemma.

The second section focuses on the political parties, civil society, and the media and shows how the HKSAR government failed to manage these elements for good governance. Ma Ngok’s chapter illuminates how the electoral system of the Legislative Council (LegCo) shaped the party system. Although the prodemocracy parties received more public support, they are in the minority and the conservative forces grasped the majority seats in the assembly. The political setting in the LegCo increased instability instead of alleviating political tension in the HKSAR. Lam and Tong’s chapter further highlights the vibrant civil society in Hong Kong and the failure of the HKSAR government to communicate with civic groups, which intensified political tension. Joseph Chan and Francis Lee accurately spotlight the problematic way in which government authorities paid overwhelming attention to shaping public opinion via the media but turned a blind eye to the needs of the people. This observation is still valid in the Donald Tsang era. When Tsang was selected to be the chief executive after the resignation of Tung Chee-hwa in 2004, he deployed public relations specialists to rehabilitate the public image...


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pp. 443-446
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