• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 7:20am
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 4:01am

Democrats must focus on what universal suffrage can do for Hong Kong

Michael Chugani says the right to oppose Beijing is not the priority in Hong Kong's universal suffrage fight, whatever the democrats think


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

I am still trying to understand what Hong Kong's so-called pan-democrats want in their demand for universal suffrage. Are they demanding the right to overthrow China's Communist Party as part of what they call "genuine" democracy? Or are they not that belligerent but simply saying this right must be included for democracy to be genuine?

In the muddled public debate now raging over what kind of universal suffrage Hong Kong should have, starting in 2017 with the chief executive election, it's become clear there are two conflicting bottom lines. Mainland leaders say under no circumstances will they allow anyone who confronts the central government to run as a chief executive candidate. Democracy camp leaders say there is no way they will accept such a condition.

This stalemate is stupid because mainland leaders are never going to say: "OK, in the name of democracy, we give you the right to overthrow us."

If pressed hard enough, some democracy camp leaders - not all - will say they have no intention of trying to overthrow the Communist Party. Perhaps it has finally dawned on them that, even if they win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers who fear communism, not many will publicly fight for the right of their chief executive to confront the central government. Hongkongers are, if anything, practical. Why trade the right to make money, speculate on property, go to the races on weekends, and partake in the pleasures of Guangdong's many karaoke bars for the right to topple the central government?

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the new Alliance for True Democracy, told me in a television interview that rejecting Beijing's demand that the chief executive should not confront the central government didn't mean the democrats want confrontation. He said the democrats just want the chief executive to have the right to tell mainland leaders that China should replace one-party rule with a democratic multiparty system.

Let's imagine the chief executive saying to President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People: "Communism is bad. One-party rule should end. China should have democracy." To which, the president will likely reply: "Mind your own business. It's one country, two systems. You don't want us to interfere in your system. Don't interfere in ours."

Mainland leaders routinely tell US presidents not to interfere with China's internal politics. And a subordinate from Hong Kong wants to tell the big boss that he lacks political legitimacy? The debate over universal suffrage has gone astray. We need to refocus. Having the right to change China's system is not what matters most. It is making our system more representative.

Why have the democrats locked themselves into equating genuine democracy with the right to confront the central government? Isn't our goal simply to win the right to democratically elect a chief executive of the people's choice who will serve Hong Kong's best interests? Instead of trying to stare each other down with bottom lines, why not find a way out that will neither involve confronting Beijing nor downsizing our democracy?

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com


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This article is now closed to comments

This article is appalling nonsense and seems plainly motivated to cause antipathy to the democracy movement by blatantly overstating its position. It repeatedly casts the Hong Kong democracy activist camp as preoccupied with overthrow of the Communist Party. On what basis? When did any of the pan-democrat leadership make such a call? They simply NEVER have. Mr Chugani, as you seem to be in Dreamland, let me state it clearly and succinctly for you: we don't want the corrupt and despotic Communist Party meddling in our lives in Hong Kong and we want to be able to elect our leaders democratically. It's very simple. Don't go distorting the message so as to discredit the movement.
Since you seem cocky about your knowledge of democracy in ancient Greece, I assume that you understand the D word in the context of Pericles’ Greece, the Delian League and Athenian Empire, as well as representation of citizens described by Thucylides and Herodotus. I also make a leap of faith that you’re “educatible.”
You totally erred. Pre-Hellenistic Athenians never elected their leaders. It was a direct democracy where people voted on issues. In 431BC, Athens had a population of 140,000, of which 40,000 were full (male) citizens. On that scale, voting on issues was simple like a town hall meeting.
Imagine what it would be like asking Hong Kongers to cast a ballot on removing the dollar peg to our currency. Do you think you can handle this vote? Or do you prefer to pass the proxy to economics illiterates like Benny Tai or Emily Lau?
Do you know how warmongering democratic Athens destroyed itself with the Peloponnesian War, including the Ionian War that drove the last nail into its democratic coffin? I suppose you are familiar with all the destructive politics, such as Pericles ostracizing – this is how this word first came about – his political foe, Cimon, and accusations of corruption and improprieties in Athenian politics that resonate in modern democratic societies?
While I was awed by the Parthenon in Athens, in Siracusa I reflected on how the city-state league started its decline by invading this Sicilian city.
Go back to school and get yourself an education.
During Enlightenment, democratic thoughts produced useful intellectual activities at the expense of monarchy and religion. As Democracy declines in the 21st Century as a paradigm for governance, it morphs into another religion with a body of dogmas and self-referencing tenets parallel to the history of God of Abraham religions.
Like religions, Democracy upholds universal suffrage as its central dogma. Without it there can be no good governance. Since many tenets and claims of good governance derived from this dogma could easily be proven false – based on facts, reason and logic, its zealots find it necessary to proselytize and to disparage every other experimental governance as inferior and ineffectual. Among some adherents, other forms of government become evil incarnate.
In Pew cross country survey on governance, China’s government garnered an 87% approval rating. As a comparison, the US Congress has a 14% public approval as of January, 2013.
The American electorate has by now 230 years of experience in selecting political leaders. But they still can’t seem to be able to choose good politicians or fire bad ones on a regular basis. It took them 8 years to dump George W. Bush. That is only after he ran the economy into the ground. Does this mean their system of democracy is no longer a workable system? Why are democracies warmongers?
Mr. Chugani is a Democracy faithful who stands to reason. But I can’t say the same about his commentators.
hard times !
Don't interfere in the politics of Mainland China, but just concentrate on our own affairs---the pursuit of our democracy promised to us:a universal suffrage in 2017 for our chief executive election but it should be a geniune one,no screening mechanism to get rid of any unwelcomed candidates in town at all.
Very entertainingly written article: I thought Michael was always anti-establishment and not pro-Beijing but seems he's formed an independent view now. It's nice to see how his deprecating comments on this universal suffrage issue has incited the kind of comments from those who think it is the only answer to Hong Kong's problems. Wake up: democracy and universal suffrage is NOT the answer. Who says you can't exploit or rig the voting system? The answer is finding the RIGHT PERSON for the job. I believe whatever system we have for electing any leader, if that person has the right credentials and mission at heart, he or she will find the way to get elected or appointed. In the end, it will be the person who leads Hong Kong out of its problems, NOT the system that puts him in office.
hard times !
This Indian writer used to be a quite good host on TV talk show by interviewing politicians in town and he even had his books published here in Hong Kong---teaching the youngsters English while instilling knowledge on current affairs to them.Yet this time,his head maybe too hot--writing such a lousy article saying that our democrats had locked democracy with the confrontation towards the Central authorities.What is Michael saying ? I just can't understand his words at all ! The democrats in town are only demanding a universal suffrage according to the United Nations standard only---not a faked universal suffrage with a so-called screening mechanism or a primary poll to get rid of any candidates who might be disliked/unwelcomed by Beijing on the pretext of being not' loving the country (actually the Party) and Hong Kong (how come ?) and confrontational to the ruling regime in Beijing---by advocating/demanding an end of one-party rule maybe ! Michael should have a clear mind and better understanding of local politics before he presents his comments publicly otherwise his fame might be tarnished and will no longer be respected here by the majority of the population who pursue a democratic Hong Kong in the future !
hard times !
During the 21st century, (actually only 13 years from its beginning at 2000), 'democracy has declined 'according to the guy below named 'whymak' who was laughed by another Comment writer,' pflim040' earlier for his poor English while attacking Professor Tai Yiu-ting for his civil-disobedience movement,'Occupy Central'--- the last resort for our democrats in town to demand a geniune universal suffrage in 2017 for our chief executive election when we can elect our leader through,'one man,one vote'---according to the UN's International Convenant of Civil & Political Rights---which stipulates that all citizens during periodic elections enjoy the right to vote, to nominate and to be elected. The movement is only in its planning stage and it will demand all participants to sign committments promising not to use any violence even under physical bullying--more or less like India's Gandhi's in his struggle against the British colonists in India by civil-disobedience at the expense of his jail sentence to fight for justice and fairness in his home country. Bravo ! Professors Tai and Chan plus Reverend Chu ! Most Hongkongers are proud of your courageous acts and words ! Wish you every success !
Mr. Chugani, you're in deep trouble with a bunch of superstitious nitwits. Democracy is their God of Abraham. Questioning myths of parting the Red Sea and Noah's Ark is a nonstarter in any dialogue on welfare economics or good governance.
hard times !
of course,this whymak never understands that democracy originates in western world as early as in ancient Greek state:Athens.i.e.over 2000 years ago ! In a democratic political system,the leader of an area /place is elected by his/her people and has to be accountable to them and care for their interests.Once found to be incapable or corrupted,he (like Taiwan's Chen Shui-bien or elsewhere's elected leaders),he/she has to step down through the veto power of the people---there is no need to stage a bloody revolution and the state power is transferred to a new leader though the new one might be found to be as incapable or corrupted as the former one yet it is still the choice of the people who have to bear their fruits planted.
The headline of this article is actually good advice. The pan-democrats should focus on the concrete good democracy can bring to HK (for example, a real chance to force the government to stop coddling property tycoons and other malefactors of great privilege). Unfortunately, as pointed out by ianson, Mr Chugani uses the entire body of the article to attack straw man arguments.


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