• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 2:09am
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 4:34am

Dogmatic zeal over democracy won't get us there

Michael Chugani says in largely free Hong Kong, the pursuit ofthe right to freely elect our leaders cannot be dogmatic or it will fail


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.

Here's my confession: I have never voted in a Hong Kong election. I haven't even registered to vote. I've only voted in US elections. Call me irresponsible. There are three reasons why I have not voted in a Hong Kong election.

No candidate from any of the political parties has electrified me enough to vote. Secondly, as a TV talk show host, I want to be able to honestly tell my guests I am neutral. Thirdly, I want to save the thrill of my first vote in Hong Kong for when universal suffrage starts with the chief executive election in 2017.

But judging from the directionless debate on universal suffrage, it doesn't seem possible that the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps can agree on how to define universal suffrage for the Legislative Council to pass a democracy package for Beijing's approval.

This idiotic impasse that could cost me the thrill of finally seeing the inside of a Hong Kong polling booth should infuriate me. But it doesn't. I've decided that we're getting a bit too carried away with all this democracy stuff. We mention the word with such reverence that you would think we're living in an oppressed society ruled by a ruthless dictator.

North Korea we are not, nor Zimbabwe. We are actually among the world's freest societies. Every weekend we see street protests targeting the authorities. The protesters are not clubbed or tortured. Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The legislature even considered impeaching him. Public fury over Henry Tang Ying-yen's illegal basement cost him the chief executive election. His wife is being prosecuted.

The election of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was challenged in court. Radical legislators regularly hurl insults and missiles at our leaders in Legco with little or no consequences. A street protest by half a million people in 2003 toppled then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. The list goes on. We are allowed to use democratic means to demand democracy, silly as that may sound. Tell me we are living in an oppressed society in desperate need of democracy.

The right to freely elect our leaders in the Hong Kong context is simply the icing on the democracy cake. Who doesn't like icing? But getting it onto the cake is a delicate business. Our democracy champions are going about it in such a way that they risk losing the cake in the quest for the icing.

Icing comes in different colours and shapes. The pan-democrats insist if it is not the colour and shape they want, then it is not icing. They speak of "true" democracy as if, without it, Hongkongers are doomed. They don't clearly define what "true" democracy means but allow their message to be garbled by no less than three groups: the Occupy Central movement, the Alliance for True Democracy, and Anson Chan Fang On-sang's Hong Kong 2020.

Will Hongkongers really be doomed without "true" democracy? Of course not. Will we have improved governance and far better lives with it? Not necessarily. I want the icing but am open to colour and shape. And I can live with just the cake if the icing carries too high a political price tag.

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


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This article is now closed to comments

John Adams
Michael : I agree with you
The huge duck in the harbor is a metaphor for the state of the pan-democratics. Large, colorful (even in pro-dem yellow !) inflated opinions, but drifting around in the wind with no obvious sense of direction.
Meanwhile, the legs are paddling like crazy below the water line and the whole thing is going nowhere.
More illogical and self-contradictory you could not be. All the instances you cite of a system working well are rooted in virulent protest and indignation from the citizens at large. If Hong Kongers took the nonchalant, disengaged, shrug-my-shoulders, who cares to vote? attitude you espouse, none of that would have happened and you would have precisely the sort of despotic regime we see in Beijing right here in Central.
hard times !
Hongkongers won't be doomed without the democracy we cherish for decades, of course.But if we can get what we have long pursued:a geniune universal suffrage of which the chief executive is elected by the Nominating Committee which members are elected through 'one man, one vote' then the governance will probably much better than the present one of C.Y.who was elected by 689 members (many were pressured/coaxed by Beijing ) of the Election Committee ! And of course will be better than Leung's precedessors:C.H.Tung and Sir Donald as well since he/she who is elected by most qualified voters here has to be accountable to his/her voters.You want the icing--democracy(no matter the colour or shape) as you are just an American citizen,though was born here in a Chinese society which has suffered from autocratic rule for over 2000 years ! Most of us long for a big change if possible.You used to enjoy the American democracy,how can you share our feelings or passions towards a democratic political system which will certainly better than an appointed/ undemocratic one ! Right ?
The indefinite delay of universal sufferage will ultimately widdle down Hong Kong to a corrupt Mainland China style government, with no accountability and the degredation fo the rule of law. These days, i woudl don't blame anybody for keeping a backup nationality as insurance for the inevitiabe mainland implosion. However, if there were a "hong Kong" passport that was not connected to the mainland government, perhaps more would apply.
hard times !
finally Michael Chugani publicly admits that he only voted in the American elections since he is an American citizen though he was born here in our beloved Hong Kong and is a permanent Hong Kong permanent.Every qualified voter can choose whether to vote or not to vote in any elections,it is his/her choice and right as well. Yet this Old Hong Kong thinks that our hard-earned universal suffrage is more than just an icing on a cake only !
Democracy is a very inefficient form of governance but it does hold the government accountable. The moment we stop resisting and let Beijing have its way, I highly doubt we will still be able to see all those wonderful examples of accountability that Michael had listed in his article. So no Michael, "true democracy" is not just an icing, without it you will only have a rotting cake left to eat.
The remark "legacies of British sovereignty" give me a bad feeling. Why introduce the British ''free'' elections only after a handover was agreed ?
If we had no handover, we had now universal suffrage and could elect people who not respect the British Crown or Parliament ?


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