PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 November, 1997, 12:00am

One of the components of the official and legitimate mechanism for the realisation of democracy, for the participation of the citizens in governing through the institution of elections and suffrage, is unfair to the majority election system.

This involves the administration of the state, provinces or states, cities and municipalities, associations, and public organisations and the election of their officials and functionaries, as well as the monitoring of their activities. Elections can be direct or indirect; voting can be secret or open. There are different methods for the monitoring of elections and for the distribution of seats on representative bodies (in both majority and proportional systems).

In attempts to legitimise their power, authoritarian regimes replace genuine elections with elections by acclamation, fraudulent plebiscites, and other subterfuges. This is how Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Nasser, Pinochet, Suharto, Mao Zedong , Saddam Hussein and other dictators have proceeded.

Furthermore, electronic technology applied to the electoral system is beginning to make possible not only an acceleration in counting ballots, but is also putting the citizen in immediate contact with legislative initiatives or actions by the executive branch, allowing them to exert pressure through direct expression of opinion (through computer networks), in a quasi-plebiscitary way. This possibility of instantaneous relationship between government initiatives and acceptance or rejection by the people, creates completely new conditions of interaction.

Of course, we should not confuse this new technology with opinion polls, which are subject to various forms of manipulation by the state or the company gathering, processing, and providing the results.

The New Humanism (see Silo's Dictionary of New Humanism), proposes a complement to the electoral system. This is accomplished through a body of laws of political responsibility that contributes to popular control of government administration.

Measures that include political censure, the loss of rights and privileges of office, removal from office, etc, as well as mechanisms for their enforcement, need to be clear and subject to immediate application.

Such a system is important not only to control irregularities, but to reduce the margin of betrayal of the voters, which is frequently expressed as politicians not keeping their election promises. Under the pretext that the people must simply await the results of future elections to know whether or not citizens are in agreement with actions taken, any decision by the people is postponed, even on many questions of real urgency.

At present, with the startling increases in the speed of social development, such delay is completely disproportionate to the needs of the people and the possibilities of today's technology, and this situation demands profound reform.

Until now, betrayal of the electorate has been the favoured method of leaders who have relied on the protection provided by the lapse of time until their mandate expires to insulate them from the people's acceptance or rejection of their decisions and the applications of their measures. This has to be changed.

TONY HENDERSON Chairman Humanist Association of Hong Kong