Party pol­i­tics not true democ­racy

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - HO LOK- SANG The au­thor is di­rec­tor of Center for Pub­lic Pol­icy Stud­ies, Ling­nan Univer­sity.

Last week the HKSAR Gov­ern­ment is­sued its con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment on po­lit­i­cal re­form. This is a time for all of us to se­ri­ously think about, and to learn about democ­racy. In an ear­lier ar­ti­cle, “The Spirit and Sub­stance of Democ­racy”, pub­lished in this col­umn, I ar­gued that democ­racy must at­tend to and serve the best in­ter­ests of peo­ple. A gov­ern­ment, no mat­ter how it is formed, that is not re­spon­sive to cit­i­zens’ needs and fails to of­fer its cit­i­zens the things they need most can­not be demo­cratic.

Thus, even though In­dia is said to be the world’s big­gest democ­racy and that its gov­ern­ments have been cho­sen through elec­tions based on com­pe­ti­tion among po­lit­i­cal par­ties, it is ac­tu­ally not very demo­cratic. Cor­rup­tion is per­va­sive and worse than China, ac­cord­ing to Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional. Pub­lic hy­giene is poor. Il­lit­er­acy is com­mon. Per­sonal safety for peo­ple and es­pe­cially girls and women is sub­ject to se­ri­ous threats. Life ex­pectancy at birth in In­dia is 65.8 years in 2012; but in China it was 73.7. The av­er­age years of school­ing in In­dia in 2010 was 4.4; while it was 7.5 in China. On many counts, which are sig­nif­i­cantly val­ued by the two coun­tries’ cit­i­zens, China has done much bet­ter than In­dia. I, there­fore, con­clude China is more demo­cratic than In­dia.

Yet, to many, China’s rule is au­thor­i­tar­ian rather than demo­cratic. Such an im­pres­sion is given be­cause China does not fol­low “party ro­ta­tion”. The pre­am­ble of the Chi­nese Con­sti­tu­tion main­tains that “the sys­tem of the multi-party co­op­er­a­tion and po­lit­i­cal con­sul­ta­tion led by the Com­mu­nist Party of China will ex­ist and de­velop


oc­racy must at­tend to and serve the best in­ter­ests of peo­ple. A gov­ern­ment, no mat­ter how it is formed, that is not re­spon­sive to cit­i­zens’ needs and fails to of­fer its cit­i­zens the things they need most can­not be demo­cratic.”

for a long time to come.”

Why is main­tain­ing the lead­er­ship of the CPC for a long time au­thor­i­tar­ian? The CPC does not be­long to any­one in par­tic­u­lar. It is only a “pub­lic in­stru­ment” whose pri­mary func­tion is to serve as a core group to gov­ern China. Sev­eral com­men­ta­tors have ar­gued that China’s gov­ern­ment is one of “mer­i­toc­racy”. Writ­ing on Nov 9, 2012 in the New York Times, Pro­fes­sor Zhang Wei­wei of Fu­dan Univer­sity said that while in the Western me­dia the con­trast be­tween China and the US was de­picted as one be­tween an opaque Com­mu­nist state and a trans­par­ent pop­u­lous democ­racy, be­hind “this su­per­fi­cial con­trast is a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween two po­lit­i­cal mod­els, one based more on mer­i­to­cratic lead­er­ship and the other on pop­u­lar elec­tions. And the Chi­nese model may win.”

Many peo­ple ar­gue that the present rule in Hong Kong, un­der which the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive (CE) must not have a po­lit­i­cal back­ground, is at the heart of the dif­fi­culty to gov­ern in Hong Kong. They be­lieve that if the CE had the of­fi­cial back­ing of a po­lit­i­cal party and if there is a “rul­ing party”, the CE will en­joy greater sup­port. But this logic is ac­tu­ally un­demo­cratic.

I call this un­demo­cratic be­cause it is sug­gest­ing that LegCo mem­bers’ po­si­tion on a pol­icy is not based on an ob­jec­tive as­sess­ment of how well that pol­icy serves the pub­lic in­ter­est. This is putting cit­i­zens’ in­ter­ests be­low party or po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests. But why should th­ese de­vi­ate from the pub­lic in­ter­est?

Asked about whether “Lov­ing the coun­try and lov­ing Hong Kong” was re­quired of the CE can­di­date, Chief Sec­re­tary Car­rie Lam said this was un­der­stood. Pressed to clar­ify what was meant by lov­ing the coun­try, Lam said lov­ing the coun­try did not im­ply lov­ing the CPC. I take is­sue with this. If the CPC is a “pub­lic in­stru­ment” for all Chi­nese na­tion­als, and it is do­ing well and is do­ing the right things for the coun­try, then what is wrong with lov­ing it? Lov­ing the Party must not be con­strued as be­ing un­crit­i­cal and sub­servient to of­fi­cials, and fol­low­ing blindly the dic­tates of who­ever who heads the Party. Lov­ing the Party must in­clude pro­tect­ing the Party from power abuses by in­di­vid­u­als who usurp of­fi­cial pow­ers for their per­sonal ends. It is com­mon sense that Party mem­bers are not all saints. It is also com­mon sense that the in­sti­tu­tions gov­ern­ing the Party’s op­er­a­tions will need to keep im­prov­ing.

When Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping put an end to sump­tu­ous of­fi­cial banquets and of­fi­cials giv­ing ex­pen­sive gifts, he was re­spond­ing to the pub­lic’s de­mand for cleaner gov­ern­ment. His ef­forts at ju­di­cial re­forms are also a re­sponse to peo­ple’s de­mands for greater ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence. He may not be elected by uni­ver­sal suf­frage, but if he was ap­pointed through a mech­a­nism which has cred­i­bil­ity in terms of se­lect­ing good lead­ers, he has as much le­git­i­macy as any pop­u­larly elected leader.

Ho Lok-sang

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.