What to make of autocratic democrats?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 September, 2009, 12:00am

The democrats' current trouble over their various en-masse resignation plans have captured headlines, and the ways these were unveiled may prove to be more important than the debate over the details. The one- upmanship within the different factions of our pro-democracy camp has revealed more about the democrats themselves than the future of constitutional reform.

When the League of Social Democrats stole the spotlight (again) with its provocative one-legislator-per-constituency resignation ploy, it made the rest of the democrats uneasy. Naturally, most focused on who would do the resigning since the stakes are designed to be high and the rewards, in terms of political capital, even greater.

And, by putting forward the plan, the league has once again challenged the democrats' hierarchy. Once a competition exclusive to the Democratic and Civic parties, the league has essentially intruded on the pecking order. As a result, one party elder quickly drew up names and both parties scrambled to churn out better plans than the original.

One problem, though minor, with the different plans for resignations is their lack of originality, as they are basically variations of the original.

What is most troubling, however, is the undemocratic way in which these plans were drawn up. The parties were so eager to beat others that they failed to discuss their plans with independent pan-democratic lawmakers before they were made public. As a result, Frederick Fung Kin-kee was included in the resignation list without his consent, and was subsequently put in a very difficult spot.

The race to appear to be 'the pro-democrat of all pro-democrats' has become a blatant demonstration of tyranny of the majority, the biggest democratic vice Alexis de Tocqueville cited in his 1835 Democracy in America. Not allowed in the deliberation until after the fact, even friends were made victims of the majority's decisions, in which the latter's interests were placed far above that of individuals. Indeed, if manipulating the power of the majority is the modus operandi of party pan-democrats, what kind of democracy will they offer the city?

To be champions of democracy requires our democrats to understand what it means to be democratic. And, by far the most important criterion surely must be their ability to practise what they preach. The democratic process is not just for the masses; self-proclaimed proponents of democracy must also give that process due respect.

We need a democratic system in which there is room for independence of mind and real freedom of discussion. Anything short of that is less than what we deserve.

Unfortunately, the discussion on the possible ways forward in our constitutional reform has turned into the current discussion on ways to reject the government's proposal, which it has yet to produce. Little sense can be found in all the attention devoted to a hypothetical situation, unless our pan-democrats have been holding secret seances that have allowed them to see the proposal the government has yet to publish. And since they are still insisting on the unconstitutional - universal suffrage by 2012 - surely, campaigning for self-fulfilling prophesies is not exactly constructive.

And the way some have gone about leading that discussion has demonstrated anti-democratic behaviour that cannot be allowed to take root in our politics. It ultimately takes away from what is truly important and much needed: a discussion on 'middle of the road' arrangements that will fulfil the constitutional obligation of 'in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress', so to remove all hurdles to universal suffrage by 2017.

Methods of voting alone may not guarantee equality and freedom, but our pursuit of democracy is about much more than what some democrats claim it to be.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA