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  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 10:41am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 3:21am

Democracy has no universal standard

Civic Party boss Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said the standards for universal suffrage "are not Western but universal". In granting the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo , the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Thorbjorn Jagland said "human rights are universal". But what on earth can they mean by "universal"?

Language may be a universal human phenomenon, but there is no such thing as a universal language. The longing for liberty - or freedom from bondage - may be a universal desire, but different peoples have come up with different social conventions, governments and systems of morality to realise what they claim is true freedom. Democracy is not universal; no more than is tyranny, which is far commoner in history. There is no one form of democracy; it is as various from Scandinavia and Denmark to Japan and the US. Some democratic countries like Italy rarely deliver a stable and legitimate government. Others do much better.

At one time or another, believers have claimed this or that religion is universal. In secular societies, democracy and human rights have become for many a religion. Yes, there are deep insights in the Koran and the Bible; and in the US Declaration of Independence and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But to claim that they are universal is no more than a nifty trick of language. The UN declaration is a convention, but it is a useful fiction to claim that it is universal. Some conventions are stronger than others, and human rights are one of the strongest we have devised to protect ourselves. Humans are weak and need protection against repressive communities and governments. Human rights standards offer a degree of protection, but conventions they are.

What does this mean for Hong Kong? From British colonialism to Chinese authoritarianism, Hong Kong has preserved itself as a free society, albeit with an undemocratic government. Now we have a historic opportunity to go all the way. But we have a far better chance of success if we focus, and build on, our own indigenous and special conditions and constraints rather than dogmatically pointing to some non-existent universal democratic standard of suffrage.

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John Adams
Alex - once again I find myself in 100% agreement with you
Democracy is -as Churchill once famously said - "the worst system of government except for all the rest"
At top line it does at least produce a few good examples, and I can can think of a few
At bottom line, it's nothing more than a system which prevents dictators taking total power ( and with total power comer total corruption) - and I can think of more than a few examples even in Europe ( Italy for one...)
HK must steer its own way.
If by some errant chance Audrey Eu was elected as our next CE we must at least have a system that kicks her out PDQ if she "misbehaves"
jkhleung
Ianson is a typical pandem. When your comments and opinions are different from theirs, they call you all sorts of names. I'm surprised Ianson has merely desrcibed Alex Lo as being dishonest, devoid of principles, uttering deliberate lies and distortions. Maybe they should look themselves in the mirror. And it would help if they would refrain from abusing people who don't subscribe to their brand of democracy. HK is simply not an independent state and their so called "universal" system of democracy is simply not suitable. In fact, the very system of directly electing the CE is fundamentally flawed when he doesn't have the support of the majority in LegCo! He cannot govern when LegCo is nothing but an opposition!
ianson
Yet again, Lo's jibberish but worse still it sets out with a Big Lie. If the SCMP's report of her comments was accurate, she was speaking specifically of "universal suffrage", not the general concept of "democracy" when she said the former is not a Western but a universal standard. Universal suffrage is a very narrow, specific concept, unlike "democracy". We are entitled to the former for the election of the CE and the latter for the constitution and conduct of the nominating committee. So the entire article written by Lo is a dishonest creation of his own fertile imagination. Lo is completely devoid of any principles - he has repeatedly shown he is prepared to make arguments from his own deliberate lies and distortion.
impala
Mr Lo is playing word games. Ms Au stated that the standard of what constitutes universal suffrage is niversal. She said nothing about democracy or any value system being universal.

And in saying that there is a universal agreement about what constitutes universal suffrage, she is absolutely right. It is simple: all can vote, and all can run to be voted for, bar some exceptions like children, inmates and the mentally disabled.

We could indeed argue about whether democracy is a universally desired form of government, and indeed its implementation can take many shapes. Even the precise implemention of universal suffrage differs greatly, eg primary elections, various rounds of elections and so forth.

But the meaning of universal suffrage is undisputed, and the selection of two (or five, or more) candidates that may run for a post by an undemocratically appointed group of people, and excluding all others in society from the right to run for office, is not and has not ever been considered universal suffrage anywhere at any time. If Mr Lo thinks it is and therefore could somehow fit the definition of 'universal suffrage' as it is used in the Basic Law, please let him share examples.
This is what Ms Au was referring to, and Mr Lo is at best being disingenuous when he twists her words and then goes off on a rhetorical tangent that misses the point completely.
Dai Muff
Sorry, but China claims more than 5,000 years of continuous civilization . Plenty of time to get it right by now.
moontiger
It is an important issue. This and future discussions of “democracy” will benefit greatly from a careful definition of the terms being used. Without such agreed upon definitions (a difficult task) columnists and contributors are merely competing to see who can yell loudest.
hard times !
I start to wonder whether this Alex Lo (a senior writer of SCMP which is now nicknamed Red Morning Post) is a modern intellect who knows at least a bit about democracy and universal suffrage.He, like that notorious New People's Party head,Broomhead Regina Ip Lau, is trying his utmost to mislead we Hongkongers by saying that there is no so-called universal suffrage-----according to the UN's International Convenant on Civic & Political Rights article 25(b) which states that in a universal suffrage, people of a certain place or country, should have the right to vote and to be voted plus the right to nominate and be nominated provided that they have got the proper qualifications (the basic/minimum requirements).There is no so-called a screening mechanism or a primary poll to get rid of some candidates whose political views might not be welcomed by the authoriites or not pro-establishment enough.The article in the Convenant is clearly written,yet our well-educated Mr.Alex Lo chooses to ignore it or pretends not to understand it so as to please his master in the North which sent him here( or hired locally) in Hong Kong (especially at SCMP) to mislead those educated middle-class people in town. Shame on you,Alex who occupies this column to talk nonsense or making misleading words from time to time.
ianson
Lo set up his statement "Democracy is not universal" in opposition to a very different statement by Eu that the standards for universal suffrage are universal, not something attached particularly to its Western form. One has to presume, to start off with, that the linguistically challenged Mr Lo never meant to say "Democracy is not universal" because we all know that. There are places on earth which do not have systems anyone would call democracy. Take the Principality of Monaco, for example, or North Korea. No, what Mr Lo wanted to say was that standards of democracy are not universal. The editor did that for him in the headline.
That statement is surely correct but it's the basis for an article that has nothing to do with Ms Eu who Lo targets for attack because he despises democrats & democracy.
Standards for democracy may be different but the word incorporates two core elements: equal rights and government by the people. These are simply elements of the meaning of the word. If you don't like the meaning, don't use the word. It's the word in the Basic Law, so we have to apply those meanings to our systems. Our Nominating Committee plainly does not provide either equal voting rights to the citizens of Hong Kong, nor does it provide leadership that derives from the people. So it simply has to change if we are to give effect to the word "democratic", whatever standard one ultimately chooses, Western or otherwise (Taiwan has a nice one).
megafun
there may never be any universal standard for universal suffrage, however Lo's views is not helping most of us - HKers. Lo may wish to instead ask, what definition of universal suffrage is the most widely supported in HK. And maybe the answer will be the same as Audrey's ? One person one vote. All are equal in selecting our next CE.
pslhk
whymak’s comments are always interesting
but too cerebral for “democratic” activists
those behaving like female copycats in heat
aping irrelevant western models
fighting for the ventilation of narcissistic frustrations
LXb’s so-called 08 Charter and
TYt’s so-called Occupy Central
pathetic farces of delusive absurdities

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