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  • Aug 1, 2014
  • Updated: 12:41am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 5:28am

Democracy is not a panacea

BIO

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.
 

In an underdeveloped democracy, wrote Emily Lau Wai-hing in the International Herald Tribune yesterday, taking to the streets is one of the few ways that the people can be heard. The lawmaker and chairwoman of the Democratic Party was, of course, referring to the massive protest turnout yesterday despite the typhoon.

Interestingly, Thomas Friedman, the famous columnist, was posting, on the opposite page, a related question by quoting a former CIA analyst: "Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies?"

In the past few months, we have seen mass protests in Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, Chile, Greece, Indonesia and Bulgaria. During the most acute phases of the global financial crisis, there were demonstrations in Spain, Britain, and the United States as well. Mass protests, like politics, are local, so each has its own causes. But this does not mean they don't have similarities or even common underlying causes and themes.

We are in a summer of global, not just local, discontent. The world may be at one of those inflection points of historical change, and our city is part of that. But in Hong Kong, it's difficult to arrive at an accurate diagnosis of our social and political ills when so many people, in their zest for full democracy, tie those problems to our lack of it. As much as I support their goal, I don't share their optimism about democracy. I will address the widespread belief that full democracy will soften deep social divisions in Hong Kong in tomorrow's column.

Let's take the wealth/poverty gap debate as an example. Icarus Wong Ho-yin, an organiser of yesterday's march, blamed Chief Executive Leung Chin-ying for it. "C.Y. has not delivered what he has promised," he said. "The lives of Hongkongers have been getting worse, with an obvious example being the wide poverty gap." Actually, it's far from obvious. The widening wealth gap is an intricate, almost universal, phenomenon, found in developed and emerging markets, in democracies as much as under authoritarian regimes. Wong's accusation may be a good rallying point, but it's no explanation.

Yes, fight for democracy because it embodies human values worth fighting for. But it is not a panacea and may even cause more trouble.

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This article is now closed to comments

johnyuan
In my view, there are two situations which when we use politics. When we deprive of something or there is something insufficient to be shared. The former we see how revolutions make history. The latter takes place everyday. Everyone would like a raise at work. Besides hard work, office politics is just if not more important. The annual protest march in Hong Kong is becoming a mixture of the two kinds. The government and political heavyweights shouldn’t mistake the protestors of their truly need. For those marchers who are less articulate they may carry or shout a simple slogan – "universal suffrage". They are thinking it would bring changes for a fair shot what Hong Kong can offer them. Respect their aspiration but mistaken not of their limited articulation. When livelihood improves we may see fewer in the streets next year. Of course, there are those insist on that all ills in Hong Kong would vanish if there is universal suffrage. I don’t. Democracy? Fine but which form? What are the details?
Dai Muff
"Democracy is not a panacea." Nobody says it is. Next.
chaz_hen
And if I may add to that: "Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies?"
Because THEY CAN, unlike places like North Korea or China that crush any crowd gathering that gives leadership fear due to their insecurities.
Today Alex wins the award for highlighting the obvious...
honkiepanky
I would 'like' this 100 times if I could.
Byebye
The wealth and poverty gap in Hong Kong is obvious, the life of Hong Kong's "have not" is getting unbearable. Therefore, what is the next step? What were the factors that led China to become a communist country? Is Hong Kong going through the same things happened to China prior to communism? Agreed with Mr Alex Lo, demoncracy may not be the panacea for Hong Kong at this moment; action to narrow the poverty/wealth gap is crucial.
captam
Alex, thank you for expressing it so eloquently.
It's such a shame that Hong Kong's pan-democrats do not have the intelligence to see this. They have been brain-washed to an even greater extent than Marxist communists during the Mainland's Maoist era. China's 'Big Brother' emigrated years ago and is now living happily in Washington among USA's ruling elite.
bolshoi
Haha, my thoughts exactly, very good and very funny indeed - I couldn't have put it better myself! Alex is obviously a very intelligent person but I am afraid few in Hong Kong are even willing to listen to his point of view. Critical and independent thinking is what the citizens of this tiny city really need. If you believe whatever Apple Daily tells you, you might as well start reading People's Daily.
johnyuan
WSJ described recently that we are seeing the uprising in dissatisfaction of governments mainly from the middle-class everywhere. I guess the middle-class is much left to fend themselves against injustices that they are experiencing. They are squeezed between the rich and poor economically – income becomes stale or escaping and payout to social benefits is in the rise. Most industrial societies in fact can’t be described as industrial anymore. They don’t make many things. They are now more a financial entities which unfortunately a self-serving activity that making a buck is possible without producing or serving anything or anyone. Not many people are good at that. Money is being funneled into the hands of a few making them like the 19 th century barons awash with cash. The balance between the gatherer (in stock etc) and producer is destroyed. The colossal of the retiring group who has stopped producing makes the imbalance even a larger problem. When technology displaces human work, the employments for youths are also affected. Exporting job is only good to those who do the exporting but not for long. The imports of goods and services they become for the home market will dry up for lack of income and employment. So march in the streets and air your anger. By and large Hong Kong has begun such transformation earlier than many others: few barons with many dissatisfying middle-class. Politic in Hong Kong is and will not necessary to be very helpful.

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