• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 9:59pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 4:00am

Our democracy offers flaws for thought

Is Hong Kong a flawed democracy? According to the 2012 Democracy Index, we are. The phrase is an oxymoron if ever there was one. But perhaps this is what democracy has to recommend itself: it is always flawed, but rarely catastrophically, unlike dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. You can certainly have successful and enlightened non-democratic regimes, but when they go bad, they can be really bad. We have all heard that old chestnut from Churchill about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others.

The annual index run by the Economist Intelligence Unit divides governments around the world into full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes. We were previously hybrid but have moved up to flawed democracy.

The improvement was attributed to an increase in the influence of the general public over last year's Legislative Council and chief executive elections. More than half of all legislators are directly elected, the index says, and the chief executive race was more open to influence from public opinion.

But the index warns that Beijing has a heavy influence on the chief executive election and that the city is held back by functional constituencies in the legislature that represent powerful special interest groups. The boroughs are certainly rotten here, but special interests pretty much define most democracies. The EIU is part of the group that owns the conservative weekly The Economist, which is hardly politically neutral.

Taking freedom in the broadest and most general sense, do you seriously think we are less free in Hong Kong than those top "full democracies" like Norway (1), Sweden (2) and Iceland (3), and those lower down like Britain (16) and the United States (21)? Shivers went down my spine whenever I was approached by cops in the US and Canada. Let's just say Asia's finest are a lot more approachable and non-violent.

But the index does point to something important. We in Hong Kong are always looking to Britain and the US as models of democracy. Perhaps countries in northwestern Europe and Scandinavia, given their small size, welfare services and humane policies, offer a much better guide.


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This article is now closed to comments

Here's my two cents:
I'm a scientist in a huge collaboration. Not everyone has experience and the knowledge powerful enough to be a leader. We select based on who's the most capable or "smart", not based on showmanship debates. And we don't have a one man one vote thingy. It would be a disaster if students who have little knowledge go to vote for our collaboration director.
So, I don't understand why a person with better showmanship can be better than a person who is really capable or knowledgeable. And I just don't understand how anyone who does not understand the company or the organisation at large can select their, CFO, CEO or their coordinators or leaders. Unless they have the required professional knowledge, they should not "distort" the result.
hard times !
By any standard, a flawed democracy is anyway much better than no democracy or autocratic political system ! The reason is as simple as ABC. We don't deny that even a political leader elected from a true democracy----directly elected through 'one man, one vote' can turn out to be a corrupted politician in the end just like Taiwan's former president,Mr.Chen Shui-bien who was twice elected by his people through universal suffrage.Yet under a democratic political system, the people (or the qualified voters) have the rights to ask their elected leader to step down if he/she is found to be either incapable or corrupted by votes----don't elect him/her in the next election. And no bloody revolution is needed. Right ? That is why a true democracy ( or even a flawed one) is definitely better than no democracy or a faked one---an appointed leader through so-called nomination committee which is formed by certain types of people with no representation of the society as a whole.
Meritocracy is worthy of consideration just as democracy was in the early part of the American Republic and perhaps also with the UK off and on in the course of history. You pointed out some obvious difficulties in the meritocratic system of a corporation.
Like you, my earlier career was in the ivory tower, then R&D, then was rotated through most functional areas in business and finance.
China's past meritocracy benchmark in dynastic succession became ossified, which eventually thrusted the nation onto the precipice of survival for over a century. Present PRC regime has evolved from dictatorial tyranny -- perhaps then a necessity for survival - into corporate like meritocracy with "scientific intent." By that I mean a trial-and-error, objective function oriented optimizaion approach to socio-economic problem solving.
No nation in history to my knowledge had the government power and organization knowhow to attempt such a grand experiment until now. Will this political brave new world play the key role in the evolution of human civilization?
The outcome is uncertain. But I hope for the best.
True Democracy? What is it? Are there any other requirements qualifying it other than populist elections? What if the election system selects only the electors and the popular votes for a president don't constitute the majority? Have you heard of gerrymandering where the governing party can redraw election districts so its party could win election after election?
How could multiple choices be embodied in one candidate when issues within a platform are conflicting? Moreover, the candidates mouthing those issues always ignore the conflict resolution of polarizing issues and are good liars. Of course, your one-dimensional view does not permit such critical inquiry.
Short of answers, your faith in Democracy is no different from Virgin Birth, Adam & Eve and other tall tales.
Mind you, so-called democratic countries are not peaceful. They have initiated most foreign wars - and I don't mean border bush fires among nations - in recent memory and slaughtered countless innocents. Compare the depth and scope of these real human rights violations with China shuttering "free speech" and incarcerating reporters and lawyers.
If you have difficulty understanding the absurdity of social choices, try to read Ken Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. If you can't understand the math, maybe you should audit a slightly advanced undergraduate economics course from HKU or HKUST.
Disputes about ideologies are usually nonsense. Better yet, you go to your church and I mine.
A democratic Chief Executive election via universal suffrage in 2017 where both candidates have to go through a mostly Beijing friendly nomination committee is still better than the current status quo even if that nomination committee could potentially screen out certain pan-democrats. At least this electoral arrangement gives HK people the ability to vote out a CE that is not doing their job. It introduces more accountability from the public and therefore raises Hong Kong's democratic status. It is impossible to deny this fact.
Also I hope the pan-dems have the foresight and knowledge of history to realize that many "guided" democracies eventually turn into genuine democracies.
Mathematically, democracy system at best could only score 50 out of 100 in running a country.
Autocratic political system could score anything between 0 to 100 depending on who the leader is.
I'll give a score of 10 for chairman Mao during the cultural revolution.
And a score of 90 for chairman Deng.
A score of 70 for the present chinese govt.
But if you have two or more stooges standing on the podium.... You have no choice, but a score of zero by Bayesian probability, if you are asked to calculate: given X number of stooges, calculate the survival of the country, civilisation or organisation. Given Y number of tyrants and X number of stooges, calculate again the survival.
Since there are no longer supreme leaders as Mao and Emperor Huizong, there is no reason to believe the N number of leaders cannot complement each other, given the fact that every person has its own set of knowledge that he/she can bring to the table, weaknesses and strengths. This is what we do in a large collaboration anyway. It makes sense.
Sadly, the minority cannot speak with a loud voice, until people understands that Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, C.N. Yang, Siddartha Gautama and any other famous people one can think of are the creme of mankind, the minorities that can push us to the next level, not the majority. They are usually opposed by the majority. Even C.N. Yang was ridiculed by his fellow peers for his theory, but in the end, his theory (although wrong) prevailed in other applications. Also, nobody believed Einstein either.
All dynasties decline and fall because no one can ensure that their children are always better than them or better than other officers and commoners. The Duke of Zhou example should have been a wake-up call for so many dynasties that follow, but it did not. In any case,
I hope for the best, and in your endeavour too. I am glad we have another R&D fella around.
Einstein & Yang
A friendly correction to your misunderstanding. Scientists are generally quite open-minded with their specialized fields, though they are just as vulnerable in political and social dialogs when they do not apply the scientific method.
CN Yang's gauge theory is most beautiful. It was generalized from the theory of light and electrons (quantum electrodynamics) to unify strong, weak and electromagnetic theories. Many accepted its beauty but couldn't buck the facts. Except for photons, all physical particles have mass. Symmetry breaking discovered by Nambu is another principle needed to realize Yang-Mills gauge in full glory. Only the great Wolfgang Pauli showed less than gentlemanly behavior when young Yang gave a seminar then. The Yang-Lee personal dispute is something I don't want to go into here.
Einstein's theories were actually quite well received. Except for some racist experimentalists who couldn't understand them, among them one Johannes Stark, whose eponymous effect won him a Nobel. He called Relativity Jewish physics.
Racists could be geniuses too. Wagner denigrated Jewish cultural contribution in his Judentum in der Musik. Yet few could deny that he is the greatest composer in the Romantic era.
Closer to home, we must deal with expats and bananas disparaging Chinese children as capable only of rote learning. This myth harms their employability and imposes a glass ceiling in their careers.
You know history much more than myself. I'm impress of the depth. And I didn't know Yang and Lee had a dispute.
I see rote learning happening around the world wherever I go. When I ask people if they know why they are doing this or why they want to pursue that, those not using rote learning are those who usually know their passion or have an objective vision of the future they want to chase after, and are not afraid to fall down. People also can't blindly chase after paper degree.




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