Democracy may be the only way out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2012, 2:08am

Hong Kong people are first-class protesters. We hit the streets at the drop of a hat. That has proved disconcerting to those in power, who have, time and again, warned that such tendencies will bring anarchy down upon us. The latest such dire prediction comes courtesy of Elsie Leung Oi-sie, Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman and former justice secretary.

"Can we be more rational?" she asked, referring to the mass rally outside the government headquarters over national education. "If [protesters] always need to mount hunger strikes or occupations, Hong Kong will become anarchical."

Such comments from a controversial figure like Leung are guaranteed to pour fuel on the fire. Some people never realise how counterproductive their comments can be for the government, even if they mean well.

People bang on the government's doors with banners and stage rallies because that is the most effective way to get what they want. From villagers who demand the right to keep their illegal structures to students who reject national education, a mass rally is the surest way to get officials' attention.

Why? Because we have a weak government that does not respond well to popular demands. An executive-led government wasn't supposed to be like this. Modelled partly on the colonial government, it should be able to impose policies, however unpopular, on the rest of society like the Brits did. It nevertheless offers a modicum of openness and transparency through routine consultation.

However, with unpopular policies, and there are always vested-interest groups to run up against, the government's routine has become: consult and ignore. At the same time, Hong Kong is so safe and stable that people can bring children along to protests. So our protests become more large-scale, more frequent, and the players get younger and younger.

We do not face anarchy, but what we do have is government policy paralysis and intense social divisiveness. I hate to bring up the D-word but full democracy, however we define it, is probably the only way for Hong Kong people to take ownership of government policies - and to break the endless cycle of protest and rejectionism.

 

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