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CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong people can't just wait around for democracy; they must act

Martin Lee says Hong Kong people now realise it's no use just expecting democracy to arrive one day soon. With universal suffrage being redefined, it's time for them to do something

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 2:32am
 

My story begins with the appearance of the pro-democracy legislators on the balcony of the former Legislative Council building at midnight on June 30, 1997. We said something very simple: "We shall return." We knew we would be thrown out of the Legislative Council by what was called the Provisional Legislative Council. As it was a provisional council, members did not have to be elected.

Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law say that the ultimate aim is the election of the chief executive and all members of Legco by universal suffrage. The Law's annex effectively said that, by the 10th year, Hong Kong could - unfortunately, not must - have genuine democracy.

I was very angry that night, but we did return. I asked why we had to wait 10 years; are we not ready? Doubters should look at any nation or territory with democratic institutions to compare their conditions when they started out with those of Hong Kong in 1997. Hong Kong was more ready, so why should we have to wait?

But, as I look towards the future, I can't even tell you when we will have democracy. I don't think anyone in Hong Kong knows. Maybe the leaders in Beijing know. I believe they may have a date in mind.

One person, one vote, according to international standards, will come when leaders in Beijing are assured that Hong Kong people will elect whomever Beijing wants to be the chief executive and Hong Kong people vote for the pro-Beijing parties to form the majority in Legco. When they are assured that Hong Kong people are ready to elect their "puppets", they will let Hong Kong people have "genuine democracy".

That day may never come because Hong Kong people treasure their core values and the pillars that keep our systems going. The core values are obstacles to Beijing, as it wants to control Hong Kong just as they control the mainland. It wants to see the core values - press freedom, for example - go. Without press freedom, the government will have better support. People won't know the "funny things" the government has been doing.

Getting rid of the core values will be a problem. I have always said that unless we can export our rule of law to mainland China, they will export their corruption to Hong Kong. This is happening. There are allegations that our last ICAC commissioner used government money to fund his own dinners with friends from Beijing or provincial governments of China. The legislator who reported it to the Independent Commission Against Corruption should have reported it to the police.

What are we going to do? In the past, Hong Kong people, including me, had been happy to wait. Ten years after 1997 came and went. Nothing happened because Beijing was worried about July 1, 2003, when half a million took to the streets to protest against Article 23. If the bill had been passed in its original form, it would have impinged on our freedom of religion, of the press and of association.

In June that year, I received a letter from Condoleezza Rice, then the US national security adviser, who thanked me for bringing to her attention the debate in Hong Kong. The letter said the US government was against the passage of the law and called on the SAR government to establish democracy as soon as possible. A few days later, a press release from the White House contained word for word what was said to me in the letter.

A number of foreign governments followed suit, calling on the SAR government to introduce democracy. But it was the US government and not the British government, the contractual party of the Joint Declaration, that made the first move. Why should other governments get involved? In 1984, many governments supported the Joint Declaration as they saw the possibility that Hong Kong could function under the principle of "one country, two systems", and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. If these governments still support the Joint Declaration, can they really sit quietly and watch Beijing break its promise towards Hong Kong?

Ten years after 1997 have gone by, and now the promise of 2017 is being postponed again. Promises were not just made to the people of Hong Kong, but to the international community as well. If a government were allowed to break an international obligation in relation to Britain, one would be encouraging the same country to break other treaties.

I say to all governments who supported and still support "one country, two systems", they owe Hong Kong people a moral obligation to support Hong Kong's fight for democracy.

We are not asking for anything that has not been promised. We are not asking for new things. We are asking for promises to be kept. If the free world were to allow the Chinese government to break those promises, the Joint Declaration would become a litany of broken promises. And then it may become a big lie.

The people of Hong Kong now realise that the days of waiting for democracy to descend upon us are over. They must do something about it, otherwise that day will never come. Will it come in my lifetime? Why must I see democracy before I close my eyes and go to heaven? I want to make sure democracy will arrive.

In the short term, I am pessimistic as democracy is being redefined. One person, one vote may be allowed, but the nomination process will be controlled through a committee that will only nominate two or three "puppets" selected by Beijing. More than half of the population, who have voted for pro-democracy candidates [in the past], will be shut out. That is equal to disenfranchising the majority of the people of Hong Kong.

In the longer term, I am optimistic as the whole world is marching towards democracy and the rule of law. Even if China were to be the last to get there, it will still get there. I also hope that the international community will at least honour their moral obligation to Hong Kong.

Martin Lee is the founding chairman of the Democratic Party. This is an edited version of a speech he made at a luncheon organised by the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on March 25

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This article is now closed to comments

RobinDeCaro
1.I don't believe in "God of Abraham",I don't even believe in the very existence of hel and heaven.Most cultures have their superstitions.I had attended a Catholic secondary school for seven years but I still don't buy it:that Jesus was the only son of god and he was sent to redeem the sins of mankind.Afterall he died for over 2000 years how many more redemptions should to save this evil world?
2.Is Christianity an essential prerequisite for democracy?Many including me would not agree.Is democracy and Christianlty a prerequisite for better moral living,lower crime rate?I don't think so.It is human that shapes mankind,not the "god"
3.There is no sectarian war here.The fight for democracy is an ideological one,and it will never be started with and ended in bloodshed;this is not the norm of HKers.Ask Cardinal Zen to pray:in the fight use less foul languages.Ask him to pray for himself:in the whole dam world there is no such clergy so involved in politics in a such a high profile.
whymak
My friend, failing to define non-contradictory democracy attributes is a dogma no different from virgin birth and Blessed Trinity. If you have a reasonable mind for logic and the mathematical method, which is the only gold standard to test the ultimate correctness of arguments, I urge you to read the six conditions (independent axioms) of Kenneth Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which proves that the exclusion of dictatorship and a subset of democratic principles cannot exist side by side. (He couched them in terms of social choices.)
Which means Democracy is absurd. I hope you have learned from your high school geometry that the proof with reduction ad absurdum is golden. My slothful SJC Form 5 math teacher, slow as molasses in January, really shed the light on me with this one.
Then why are so many people clinging to the Democracy superstition?
Opiate for tribalism and for the mind, says Karl Marx.
This rabble rouser is wrong about many things, but he did nail this one.
No sectarian war? How about obstructionism and gridlock that cause crisis after crisis in Euroland and the US? In Western politics, you must obstruct and make others fail before you could gain power. Emily Lau is doing that to Martin Lee. The only thing Western powers can agree to is wage foreign wars and kill people of lower races. That's the only time the US government could gain unanimous support.
When you aspire to Democracy, which sect are you referring to?
hard times !
democracy is democracy just like 'my mother is a woman' and 'my dad is Li Gang'---a male not a female ! Everyone with sense well knows that up till now ,the best political system in the whole world is democracy since a democratic government comes from the majority of the voters who have the power to monitor the elected government they choose.Once the government fails to perform satisfactorily,it has to go through votes and not revolutions or civil wars as during 1946-1949 in China ! Right ?
whymak
"...civil wars as during 1946-1949 in China !" The more you spill your beans, the more you demonstrate ignorance and illiteracy. Kuomintang and Communists split in 1927, which was then followed by the Northern Expedition. Every Hong Kong Chinese schoolboy knows this piece of our history. I guess you're probably just as 目不識丁 in Chinese.
Like Martin Lee, you stoop to smell white men's rear ends and come to the conclusion that 洋人臭屁 (white man Democracy farts) 最香 (smells better than Chanel No. 5).
whymak
This is what I gather from your column, Mr. Lee. God of Abraham's Kingdom is at hand. As you ascend past the pearly gate and take a seat behind white folks' rear ends, you will have your final laugh. Democracy will triumph over despicable corrupt Chinese, opium addicts, communist tyrants, Mao Zedong and Fu Manchu. End of History as you imply should make all arguments superfluous. Then why all these unnecessary disputations?
For sure, your vision is derived from your twin religious faiths, Catholicism and Democracy, but not Hegelian dialectic.
Perhaps it's not too late for us atheistic Chinese start loving Jesus and Winston Churchill, since slave traders, opium peddlers, mass ****s of Vietnamese, Iraqis, Indians and Chinese, who were all Christians or Democrats, or both, are already in Heaven. While your shared twin faith with them has guaranteed a reservation there, atheists and meritocratic authoritarians are likely to roast in Dante's Inferno.
But I am still skeptical about the company you keep. Among them one deceased US senator who once swore that he “won’t be out-niggered” by political adversaries, and another one, a principal architect of foreign and sectarian wars that have already killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans.
I sincerely hope Hong Kong upcoming Democracy’s sectarian war that you so devoutly wish for will be less bloody. Please ask Cardinal Zen to pray for us.
hard times !
This 'whymak' will never become a Catholic nor a democrat since we can never expect a Marxism believer or a devout communist to believe in God (as communsits used to say that religion is the opium of people, no doubt there is no freedom of religion on Mainland China---to protect her poeple from drugs maybe !) or democracy (which originated in ancient Greek state:Athens 2000 years ago !) as communists or their slave-servants have to embrace or safeguard autocratic rule---------so-called one-party rule to keep their power of rule so as to grab more wealth and other material comforts plus beauties. Right ? ha ! ha ! Yet these hired 'writers' here represented by 'whymak' are nothing but miserable elements only which will be eliminated by the current of history in the end. Just wait and see !
RobinDeCaro


1.I don't believe in "God of Abraham",I don't even believe in the very existence of hel and heaven.Most cultures have their superstitions.I had attended a Catholic secondary school for seven years but I still don't buy it:that Jesus was the only son of god and he was sent to redeem the sins of mankind.Afterall he died for over 2000 years how many more redemptions should to save this evil world?
2.Is Christianity an essential prerequisite for democracy?Many including me would not agree.Is democracy and Christianlty a prerequisite for better moral living,lower crime rate?I don't think so.It is human that shapes mankind,not the "god"
3.There is no sectarian war here.The fight for democracy is an ideological one,and it will never be started with and ended in bloodshed;this is not the norm of HKers.Ask Cardinal Zen to pray:in the fight use less foul languages.Ask him to pray for himself:in the whole dam world there is no such clergy so involved in politics in a such a high profile.
caractacus
The word democracy derives from the ancient Greek "demos" (the people) and "kratia" (power or rule). At the heart of this concept are the principles that government is elected by THE people, not SOME people, that government should rule as the servant of the people, not the other way round, freedom of choice, freedom of expression, freedom of the media, civil liberties and lawful rights safeguarded by an independent judiciary and the freedom to vote out of office a bad government. China is, predictably, perverting the meaning of the word to perpetuate in power an unrepresentative, corrupt elite which is undermining the rule of law, integrity in public office and social justice in Hong Kong.
China has indeed exported its corruption to Hong Kong. If the democracies were to falter, the corruption and evil their enemies represent would plunge the world into the dark age with which mankind was threatened in the 1930's and 1940's.
hard times !
This Old Hong Kong firmly believe that one day, our mother country will become a democratic one which the leaders and leading officials of every province,perfecture,town and village will be elected through 'one man, one vote' ------ a fair and open election.Of course it may take time to accomplish this ideal---------a democratic China and no more so-called 'one-party rule' which can only produce corrupted cadres and brutal and lawless governance since the power is not monitored by the press or the media or the people themselves. Of course, we can be optimistic that the whole world is moving towards democracy.Take Burma (now Mynamar) as an example.In the past ,it was ruled by an autocratic military regime, but now it has become a democratic country which attracts many businessmen to invest there and tourists flock there too.
SpeakFreely
"One person, one vote, according to international standards, will come when leaders in Beijing are assured that Hong Kong people will elect whomever Beijing wants to be the chief executive and Hong Kong people vote for the pro-Beijing parties to form the majority in Legco. When they are assured that Hong Kong people are ready to elect their "puppets", they will let Hong Kong people have "genuine democracy"." Days are counting as HK is relying more and more on China on its economy. On the contrary China relying less and less in attracting international investment or moving forward as being a superpower, why would China want to give democracy to HK? What is the pressing issue for China? If I'm China, I will wait for the end of 50 years and decide what to do.

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