Hong Kong: Government
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: President of China Hu Jintao
Head of Government: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is headed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who first took office in 2005. Tsang won re-election in 2007, running against Alan Leong Kah-kit, a senior barrister and legislator for the pan-democratic Civic Party. Tsang's current term ends in 2012. The Election Committee that votes on the Chief Executive (CE) is made up of approximately 1,200 Hong Kong residents from four constituency groups: commercial, industrial, and financial interests; professionals; labor, social services, and religious interests; and the legislature, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and the P.R.C. National People's Congress.
In July 2002, the Hong Kong Government implemented the Principal Officials Accountability System, which was designed to make the government more responsive to public concerns. Twelve political appointees, directly responsible to the Chief Executive, run the 12 policy bureaus. Three other senior civil service positions--the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary, and Justice Secretary--are also filled by political appointments. This system expanded in 2008 to include one Under Secretary and one Political Assistant position filled by appointment in each bureau.
Hong Kong remains a free and open society where human rights are respected, courts are independent, and there is well-established respect for the rule of law. However, the right of residents to change their government peacefully is limited by the Basic Law, which provides for the selection of the CE by an 800-person Election Committee composed of individuals who are directly elected, indirectly elected, and appointed (expanded to 1,200 for 2012). The Basic Law provides for the direct election of 30 of the 60 LegCo members. The other 30 seats in the LegCo are elected by 28 functional constituencies (FCs), which represent key economic and social sectors. As of 2008, the 28 FCs represented fewer voters than the electorate in a single geographic constituency. The vast majority of FC voters are represented by the three largest FCs, while the four smallest have fewer than 200 voters. FCs set their own voting rules, with some allowing heads of corporations to vote on behalf of their companies. Persons with interests in more than one sector represented by an FC may be able to cast three or more votes (one in their geographic constituency and one in each FC for which they meet eligibility requirements). In 2007 the CE Election Committee selected incumbent Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, and the P.R.C.'s State Council formally appointed him. In September 2008 voters in six geographic constituencies elected 30 legislators, half of the total LegCo, in elections that were generally free and fair.
In December 2005 the LegCo rejected a Hong Kong Government-proposed package of incremental reforms to the mechanisms for choosing the CE in 2007 and forming the LegCo in 2008. In July 2007, the Hong Kong Government's Commission on Strategic Development issued a Green Paper on Constitutional Development, which set out a myriad of options to reform the CE and LegCo electoral mechanisms, with the "ultimate aim" of universal suffrage as prescribed by the Basic Law.
On December 12, 2007, Chief Executive Donald Tsang submitted a report on the Green Paper to the central government. The report said more than half of local people wanted universal suffrage by 2012, but 2017 might be a more realistic date. In December 2007, the P.R.C. National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) issued a decision on Hong Kong's constitutional development which, while ruling out universal suffrage in 2012, appears to open the way for Hong Kong to achieve full universal suffrage for the CE in 2017, and full universal suffrage for LegCo in 2020. Any amendments to the Basic Law require approval by the CE, at least two-thirds of LegCo, and then the NPCSC.
In November 2009, the Hong Kong Government began a public consultation for electing the CE and LegCo in 2012. The government proposed expanding LegCo to 70 seats (five new geographic seats and five seats to be added to the District Councils Functional Constituency) and to expand the Election Committee for the CE to 1,200. In the spring of 2010, after dialogue between Beijing (through the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong), the Hong Kong Government, and some pan-democrats, a compromise was reached. The five new functional constituency seats will be nominated by District Councilors, but elected by all Hong Kong voters not registered to vote in another functional constituency. This package passed the Legislative Council on June 24, 2010 by a vote of 46 to 13. Public concerns over the roadmap, the future of functional constituencies, and post-2012 constitutional development remain unresolved.
According to Article 13 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's foreign relations and defense are the responsibility of China. However, Hong Kong is a customs territory and economic entity separate from the rest of China and is able to enter into international agreements on its own behalf in commercial and economic matters. Hong Kong, independently of China, participates as a full member of numerous international economic organizations including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). It is an articulate and effective champion of free markets and the reduction of trade barriers.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (October 2011)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( October 2011)