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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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Martin Lee has been brained-washed by the West. He won't even examine or consider Western style (parliamentary or congressional) democracy's not inconsiderable failings. Witness the many basket case nations of Africa ( now free of the "tyranny" of colonization for nearly five decades) or look at ungovernable Europe, now with almost a full 40% of its youth unemployed, an imbalance just waiting explode.
And the ever-trumpeted 'Rule of Law' ? Excuse me? Why do Britain and USA still conspire to detain people they don't like, without trial or have them murdered by drone-dropped bombs. The USA still has it 'off shore' prison cells to avoid constitutional jurisdiction and Britain still detains prisoners without trial and, believe it or not, has three of these who, collectively, have been detained for a total of 42 years without ever having been tried and convicted of any crimes.
The pan-democrats here are not only delinquent in their political and economically destructive behavior, but are blind to reality.
Good point. Weaknesses in the system mean that the system is fatally flawed and HK and Chinese people must be controlled as they are not capable of thinking for themselves. The Communist party will take care of the thinking. The fact that there are flaws in other systems means that we must stick with the repressive regime for the good of all. How can we think that HK people could possibly think for themselves. They might challenge the decisions of the Tai-Pans and the Communist Party. What a joke, Captain, but at least the Masters in Beijing have a good servant in you.
Western democracy has its flaws but at least the people can change it. I have just one simple question for you - How many people emmigrated to China last year compared with UK or USA? If China system was so great, surely more people would want to go there?
With regard to immigration and emigration. You are out of date. The mass desire for many of China’s population to ‘escape to better shores’ has been falling dramatically over the past two decades. Many of those that did leave now regret it and many, indeed, have gone back. The immigration flow is now the other way with huge numbers of non-Chinese nationals trying their luck as economic migrants in China. Official figures suggest that, overall, some 2.85 million of the 26.11 million foreigners who entered China in 2007 came for employment purposes. China now ranks as a major destination for international students, with an estimated 238,184 foreign students in 2009, ahead of both Australia and Canada. (mpi data).
@ 'Western democracy has its flaws but at least the people can change it'.. No they can’t unless they mount a revolution and overthrow their constitutions. And this seldom occurs until the next ‘world war’ (probably coming soon to a continent near you) All they can do, every time a parliament falls, is elect another bunch of incompetent leaders nominated from the same old ruling parties ( too well funded by major interest groups to be dislodged) and making undeliverable promises. With a one party system the leaders are also changed periodically through the equivalent of elections, held at local, regional and central congresses. These congresses are composed of those chosen from grass root levels from all over the country and there has to be overall consensus with the direction of political aim and travel to been accepted. Some representatives indeed may be ‘bought’ at these lower levels but there are checks and balances to ultimately bring down the corrupted. This is accomplished through Confucian-style self-examination... “are we doing the right thing? ;are we governing badly or reasonably well given the circumstances?; have we become too far removed from our own people?; do they hate us?. Very few Western politicians are able to self-examine like this. They believe that all they have to do is keep repeating the same untruths to ensure their re-election. And once elected they have their collective snouts in the feeding troughs but are unable to rule and govern effectively.
hard times !
Captain has been brainwashed by the autocratic ruling regime.Right ? What is wrong with 'rule of law' which our beloved Hong Kong practises ? May I ask ?
Many Hong Kong people think Martin Lee was a grovellling creep and pathetic when he ran to the United States to cling to the skirts/trousers of 'Massa (Master) whenever he had difficulties here. He revelled in being seen with the US President or Secretary of State.They listened politely gave him a pat on the back for being a good boy to report to 'Massa, and sent him home. Cite me a tangible result of these visits. Why? Is Lee in their pay or the US keeper of his political soul? Does US have control over China?
Things took their own course and pace and they will continue to do so.
Many people feel we have a good life and can live with the system and expect change with time. We oppose being forced to accept the aims, pace and tactics of politicians led by radicals. We hear little moderation and reason but a lot of outright abusive condemnation of anything they do not like. You cannot bang the table and demand that all your demands are met and call it democracy. It is trying to bully the opponent and arrogating the rights of the silent minority.It is street and political hooliganism.
We want support for the government to get on with the job and no corruption or abuse of power. The government should be able to deal directly and in a friendly way with Beijing.We object to paying big wages to Legco members just for them to waste even more money by obstructing the government at every turn to get their way which is a gross abuse of power and democratic instruments.
hard times !
this Old Hong Kong thinks that many Hong Kong people think that instead of Martin Lee (our father of democracy here ),the old guy (so-called patriotic one)Ng Hon-man should be called a grovelling creep.Martin Lee went to the United States after the June 4th crackdown of democratic movement around Tinanmun Square to ask for a sanction of the brutal Chinese Communist government. What was wrong with his act ? He loved his compatriots and his country(as our National father,Dr.Sun Yet-sin did ) but not an autocratic brutal and corrupted ruling regime ! Without a democatic political system,how can Hongkongers live a good life ? Only when the chief executive is elected through'one man, one vote'then he/she has to be responsible towards his/her people ! Right ? You are trying to mislead the readers of this Comment column, shame on you and your mailicious words !
Mr.Martin Lee should define what is genuine democracy.
One person one vote?That has been done in the 2012 district Legco election.
Cancell primary election?In militants-controlled states,ther are no primary elections.They are not within the systems but within the hearts of the people.
So,what kind of democracy Mr.Lee wants?
Democracy stamps on corruption?It is generally believed that Japan has clean bureaucrats but with colluding politicians.
So,what kind of democracy Mr.Lee wants?
Martin Lee really knows how to be a drama queen. This is the guy who a few weeks ago was willing to accept a screening mechanism and then back peddled a few days later when the other pan-dems did not like it.




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