Univer­sal ap­pli­ca­tion of democ­racy is sheer folly

Chan Tak-le­ung writes that the call for ‘greater democ­racy’ in HK by for­mer gov­er­nor Chris Pat­ten is ill-de­fined, mis­judged and im­prac­ti­cal for the SAR and it only shows his pen­chant for play­ing to the gallery

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Lord Pat­ten, the last gov­er­nor of Hong Kong, was in town re­cently and once again he demon­strated that he has per­fected the art of speak­ing with a forked tongue. For while His Lord­ship pro­nounced that he was op­posed to any in­de­pen­dence move­ment in Hong Kong, in the same breath he de­clared him­self a great sup­porter of “greater democ­racy and bet­ter govern­ment” in the Hong Kong SAR. What could he have meant by that? Re­gard­ing democ­racy, was he re­fer­ring to the Bri­tish model of univer­sal suf­frage that he is so fa­mil­iar with since he has been “elected” as a mem­ber of par­lia­ment, “ap­pointed” as the gov­er­nor of Hong Kong by the then prime min­is­ter af­ter he lost his par­lia­men­tary seat, “nom­i­nated” to be a com­mis­sioner in the Euro­pean Union, and “el­e­vated” with a peer­age as he sits in the un­elected House of Lords whose task is to scru­ti­nize pro­posed leg­is­la­tion put for­ward by elected mem­bers in the lower house?

One hopes that when he pro­motes “greater democ­racy” in Hong Kong he does not mean to rec­om­mend that Hong Kong should also adopt the Bri­tish model of gov­er­nance. If this is the case, it would mean that Hong Kong should have an elected leg­is­la­ture, which there is al­ready, an up­per house of un­elected mem­bers, not to men­tion the in­stal­la­tion of a sov­er­eign king or queen as well.

To ar­tic­u­late warm words such as “greater democ­racy” as Lord Pat­ten did is both pa­tron­iz­ing and open to mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion and mis­un­der­stand­ing, prov­ing that he was merely us­ing the term as a crowd-pleas­ing chant, noth­ing more noth­ing less.

Is he not aware of the fact that democ­racy means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions? To sim­ply state that a city, a re­gion or in­deed a na­tion needs “greater democ­racy” will un­doubt­edly re­sult in a va­ri­ety of in­ter­pre­ta­tions. It will only add to con­fu­sion among lo­cal peo­ple, and be ma­nip­u­lated by po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists with other sin­is­ter mo­tives. Words such as democ­racy and free­dom be­ing bandied around without any qual­i­fi­ca­tion, with- The au­thor is the di­rec­tor of the Chi­nese in Bri­tain Fo­rum. He was the first-ever Chi­nese Bri­tish cit­i­zen to be elected mayor of the Greater Lon­don Bor­ough of Red­bridge (2009-10) and served as a mem­ber of the city coun­cil for over 10 years. out tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the be­liefs and his­tor­i­cal, cul­tural, so­cial, geopo­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and other fac­tors of a spe­cific area, in this case the HKSAR, only make for good sound bites but is ac­tu­ally mean­ing­less and un­help­ful.

Lord Pat­ten’s ex­pres­sion of his mis­giv­ings at the lack of speed in Hong Kong’s jour­ney to univer­sal suf­frage is a sen­ti­ment shared by many ci­ti­zens of Hong Kong. He might have for­got­ten that he was the one who pushed through elec­toral re­forms in 1994, three years prior to the han­dover in 1997, without any con­sid­er­a­tion of the many fac­tors al­ready men­tioned, which re­sulted in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal di­chotomy in the leg­is­la­ture. For him to come all this way to de­liver his mes­sage may be with the best in­ten­tions, but he should nonethe­less be told that the univer­sal ap­pli­ca­tion of democ­racy is noth­ing more than dogma, if not the­o­ret­i­cal on his part. His pro­nounce­ments are ill-de­fined, mis­judged and im­prac­ti­cal for the SAR.

If one ex­am­ines how “democ­racy” is work­ing in other nations across the globe then one can see its ap­pli­ca­tions are by no means 100 per­cent demo­cratic as far as their re­spec­tive elec­torates are con­cerned. The re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in the US, for ex­am­ple, has re­sulted in Don­ald Trump be­com­ing pres­i­dent-elect by amass­ing 306 Elec­toral Col­lege votes, which is more than Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 232 votes. How­ever, if one de­fines democ­racy as “one per­son, one vote” then Clin­ton’s pop­u­lar vote of 64 mil­lion would have a 1.7 per­cent mar­gin over Trump’s 62 mil­lion — but in this case she is the loser.

It demon­strates that univer­sal suf­frage is be­ing prac­ticed but in the end be­ing de­feated by a not-so-per­fect vot­ing process. If this can hap­pen in a rec­og­nized demo­cratic su­per­power like the US, what chances are there for “greater democ­racy and bet­ter govern­ment” for other coun­tries like Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria — nations with to­tally di­verse back­grounds to the ideal demo­cratic state that the US in­tends to pro­mote?

In Bri­tain, when David Cameron de­cided to quit af­ter the Brexit vote in June this year and Theresa May be­came prime min­ster af­ter 199 MPs voted for her in the sec­ond bal­lot of the lead­er­ship con­test and the drop­ping out of her near­est ri­val, there were no need for a bal­lot of the Con­ser­va­tive Party mem­ber­ship and no need to ask the na­tion’s elec­torate for a man­date ei­ther.

Is that the type of democ­racy that Lord Pat­ten has in mind for Hong Kong?

Hong Kong adopted an Elec­tion Com­mit­tee which is sim­i­lar to the elec­toral col­lege of the US. Its 1,200 mem­bers, with over 260,000 reg­is­tered vot­ers, are re­spon­si­ble for the elec­tion of the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive. It is frus­trat­ing that the pro­posal for univer­sal suf­frage in the elec­tion of the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive was not voted through in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil in 2015. It is, how­ever, reck­less and sheer folly for Lord Pat­ten to em­pha­size greater democ­racy in his re­cent speeches without pay­ing full con­sid­er­a­tion to its prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion in the con­text of the re­gion.

To sim­ply state that a city, a re­gion or in­deed a na­tion needs ‘greater democ­racy’ will un­doubt­edly re­sult in a va­ri­ety of in­ter­pre­ta­tions. It will only add to con­fu­sion among lo­cal peo­ple, and be ma­nip­u­lated by po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists with other sin­is­ter mo­tives.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.