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

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 4:34am

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.