Proof that HK is ripe for democracy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2006, 12:00am

I am always surprised, in the light of debate on universal suffrage in Hong Kong, how the words 'democratic' and 'democracy' are (mis-)used. For me, there are two ways to look at the word 'democratic'. One is the process by which political leaders are elected; the other (linked with the first one) is more a term of values: a democratic society is one that tries to realise equality, freedom and justice, including a separation and balance of powers, protection of minorities and rule of law.

If we adopt this latter concept, we realise that universal suffrage is an important component of democracy but not its ultimate realisation. Democracy is also about the openness of the political process and the participation of people in their own matters. German communist leader Rosa Luxemburg put it this way: 'Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the party ... is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters.'

In response to Alex Tam's letter 'First bite of HK's democracy cherry' (July 7), concluding that Hong Kong is not ready for universal suffrage mixes up democracy with the will of the central government.

That the Article 23 national security legislation was not passed is an achievement of people who are aware of their rights. That Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's reform package was defeated shows that Hong Kong parties are not willing to support a superficially democratic system. That there is no consensus in Hong Kong - not only about universal suffrage - proves this is a diverse society.

All this shows how ready Hong Kong is for universal suffrage.

TOBIAS MICHELS, University of Hong Kong

How to get noticed

Lights Out Hong Kong's idea of turning off the city's lights for three minutes is a novel idea and will probably generate some chit-chat about our high levels of pollution (Green groups hoping for city of darkness', June 30). However, thanks to the pollution, no one will notice the lights have been turned out.

Rather than something so subtle, why not try more direct action. Hit the government where it hurts: in the wallet. A more direct action would be for all taxpayers to split their tax bills into 50 slices and pay these bit by bit. Such action is legal and safe, and will cause chaos at the Inland Revenue Department. There's no better way to get your point across than to disrupt the lives of the people whose attention you are trying to get.


Parallel universe

It has occurred to me that some organisations in Hong Kong could well be living in a parallel universe. This insight came while I was waiting for a train on the platform of the MTR's well-used Tung Chung line at Nam Cheong station.

During the wait, two Airport Express trains shot by on their exclusive tracks, one to the airport and the other to Central. It took only reasonable eyesight to see that these two trains were carrying not more than half a dozen passengers between them.

On some occasions, I desert the delights of the Tung Chung line and catch a bus, which happens to go through the Western Harbour Tunnel. Like the Airport Express, it seems to be in need of customers.

Now even I, with my appalling maths, can see that, by slashing their charges by, say, half, the Airport Express and the tunnel authority could show a healthy profit. This would also relieve the Central Harbour Tunnel of its congestion.


As a matter of fact ...

The arguments of self-styled Tibet expert Chris Maden might carry more weight if his letter 'Far from the track' (July 7) had not contained errors.

One, the Tibetan word for 'river' is tsangpo, and the river he is referring to is the Yarlung Tsangpo. Two, aside from Lhasa, (on the Lhasa River), southern Tibet has two large towns, both of which have pretty good medical facilities. Smaller settlements of note are essentially large villages or small towns, but they all provide basic medical care, although I suspect they don't run to collagen implants and tummy tucks.

The small villages (say, 10 houses) cannot sustain medical facilities, but that would be the case anywhere. Critically though, these people are no more than five hours' drive from some assistance.

Before letting rip again on Tibet, I suggest Mr Maden check with his Tibetan friends to see that what he is saying is actually correct.


Call abuse by its name

The US Supreme Court recently issued a rather interesting message: the terms 'enemy combatants', 'extraordinary rendition' and 'military tribunals' cannot be used to avoid debate on what is legal or illegal.

Author Salman Rushdie, in an article published in the Australian newspaper The Age, presented a powerful argument against the abuse of language to manoeuvre around political, legal and moral hurdles, writing that 'the ugliest phrase to enter the English language in 2005 was 'extraordinary rendition''.

The court's majority opinion should be comforting to academics, advocates of democracy and Americans - whose credibility can hardly be said to be anything other than in shreds.

On this last point, George Soros, in his work The Bubble of American Supremacy, has given us a most convincing argument against the 'war on terror' (which itself is an abuse of language): put simply, the attack on Iraq turned the US, as the victim of

9/11, into the perpetrator. Extrajudicial tribunals, the official use of torture and the careless treatment of civilians have eroded its moral authority.

Assuming the US wants to exhibit the virtues of its political model as a means of protecting human rights, it should listen to its supreme court, stop using clever linguistic footwork to avoid difficult arguments and shut down Guantanamo Bay. Let's start this process with the US admitting to its mistakes. Torture is torture. Illegal detention without charge or trial is going to be illegal even if you call the suspects 'enemy combatants'.

GARY TIU, Mid-Levels