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  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 3:02pm
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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This article is now closed to comments

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
whymak
The most obvious question that no one asks: What is the operational definition(s) of good governance? Without it, everything else about democracy and elections is superfluous. Worse, pure unadulterated nonsense.
Why do so many otherwise likable folks insist obnoxiously on universal suffrage that has no relevance to effective governance and economic welfare?
Sadly to say, many are either simply stupid, superstitious, brainwashed or brain dead.
Like I always say, Democracy is a religion like any other.
The mass feels helpless and inferior. There is a need to create Truth and God in their own image to overcome their own fears and inadequacy. Deity and ideology fulfill their yearnings. Unfortunately, the outcome produced by their sense of insecurity and inferiority complex is either a mythical God or false "universal" values, or both, which under scrutiny, are no more than a bundle of conflicting gibberish.
Tell me, how many puerile readers chanting universal suffrage nonstop are willing to discuss issues relating to it within a civilized and critical dialogue? None.
That's why they resort to coercion and blocking traffic. The economic loss from these demonstrators -- de facto vandals due to incurred costs to others -- may be hard to estimate, but it is an invisible tax of time and money for all Hong Kongers.
whymak
WHY IS UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE ABSURD TO THE CORE?
Common sense questions about all elections:
1. Out of 3 million eligible, how do you nominate just 3 or 5?
2. If 5 run and none has majority, a runoff results. Arrow's Impossibility Theorem shows exactly why this selection is absurd.
3. Each candidate embodies a choice of complex political positions. Ambiguous representations of candidates' choices aside, subsets of their positions overlap. Could a voter weigh them intelligently? No way!
4. If not, 1.5 million opinions – 50% votes of the electorate – are likely totally randomized. Be realistic. Opinions of this huge sample out of a 7-million population will average to almost “absolute zero,” with no political will, no long-term strategy and worst, no idea of welfare economics.
5. The executive management committee of a $100B firm is a meritocracy. Its CEO takes consensus from the members before he makes decisions. Or he asks members to vote but reserves the right to veto. China is like that. But every committee member has an informed opinion. Are 12 informed opinions, which could be very wrong, better than 200,000 employees without a clue?
6. Pan democrats started a sectarian war among themselves and a religious one against China and us. Could they be trusted to abide by election results and not provoke riots and endless demonstrations which paralyze businesses and government?
You have to be brain dead to believe in universal suffrage and virgin birth.
whymak
A reader said, "..what definition of universal suffrage is the most widely supported in HK." Like many readers, he is chanting and re-chanting a meaningless dogma.
The real issue is what's good governance. Define it. The next question that follows should be: What are the available choices to achieve it? Third question is: Which option is best or optimal given all the constraints in the real world? Finally, you must find ways to implement your governance choice.
Reiterating your dogma and throwing a temper tantrum like Benny Tai and some moronic readers will get you nowhere.
Without answering these questions, you're just a bunch of headless chickens in a room where people come and go, talking of God of Abraham and other no-no.
the sun also rises
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.
whymak
You're a shameless fraud. Proliferating user names is no different from repeating your own illiterate superstitious faith in Democracy and trying to create the illusion that it's a shared opinion by many. You say you want elections. But you are the basest scum who prints all the fake votes in an election.
blue
The above commenter is actually pflim040. He keeps posting under different usernames. For a guy who loves democracy so much, you lack transparency.
whymak
Not all illiterates are shameless like him. A Confucius aphorism I learned from my father in my boyhood fits him to a tee: 愚而好自用賤而好自專.
Interestingly, this saying applies equally well to academic airheads like Benny Tai and folks brainwashed in one-man-one-vote as the only means to select leaders in government.
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).
whymak
You have repeatedly given us circular references here and elsewhere using the meaningless word democracy. So let me tell you a story that I just made up for you.
Without raising their hands, three 5-year olds shot questions simultaneously at the Sunday school teacher after she explained Blessed Trinity, the 3 persons in one God.
Child 1: "Is God the Father's beard brown or gray?"
Child 2: "Does God the Holy Ghost have a beard?"
Child 3: "Does God the Son like tacos better than enchiladas?"
Pointing at the 3rd child, she asked: "Why do you think Jesus likes to eat tacos?"
"When mom and dad took us to Cancun, I saw a picture at the hotel lobby with a man sitting in the middle of a long table with 12 others eating tacos. Mom told me the man was Jesus," said Child 3. Smart kid. Counts up to 12, like you can repeat democracy universal suffrage 20 times without taking a breath.
"I think you better go home now," said the teacher, "Your parents are waiting for you outside. I will answer your questions next week."
Your discussions about democracy and universal suffrage are really along the same line of questions raised by these children and answers made up by the Sunday School teacher for the children the following Sunday.

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