• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 1:59pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 4:52am

Democracy doesn't come with guarantees

If someone demands freedom and democracy, there is really no good argument against him. You just have to concede and go along. But if someone makes a further claim, as some pan-democrats have done, that only full democracy can resolve or at least soften deep divisions in our society, that's highly debatable. The opposite argument - that it will exacerbate conflicts between different classes, vested interests and groups, and may even make Hong Kong-mainland relations more difficult - seems to me to be equally, if not more, plausible.

There is little empirical evidence that democracy calms tensions and conflicts. Pay a visit to Istanbul, Sao Paulo or Brasilia, Cairo, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, Santiago, Athens, Madrid, Jakarta, Sofia or Washington. These democratic cities and societies are as deeply divided and conflicted as Hong Kong in their own ways. I rather think people in "undemocratic" Hong Kong are divided like everyone else precisely because we are free, and legally protected, to air our grievances like any free and democratic society.

There is also no firm theoretical basis for the calming influence of democracy. While Western democracies have successfully resolved what has been called the "tyranny of the majority" problem, most if not all are plagued by what may be called "the tyranny of the minority" - activists obsessed with and committed to a single issue, say, abortion, farm subsidies or, in Hong Kong, where to put an incinerator. Their demands often override majority preferences.

Well, what about "the widening gap between rich and poor, the decline in opportunities for young people, the worsening housing problems, and the increasing inadequacy of our pension and health care systems", as a prominent pan-democrat said of the failure of governance in Hong Kong. These problems have more to do with market economics than democracy, and many democratic governments have trouble achieving any consensus to tackle these deep-seated, almost universal, problems.

There is also no reason to think a democratic Hong Kong would be friendlier to Beijing or to mainlanders. But Hongkongers are pragmatic, you say. If that's true, why not accept the status quo? The truth is that the pan-dems cannot guarantee democratic Hong Kong will never challenge Beijing on key sovereign policy issues any more than Beijing can guarantee it will never interfere in our domestic affairs. The pan-dems demand Beijing take a leap of faith in Hong Kong democracy while having no faith in Beijing's intentions. Trust can only work both ways.

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This article is now closed to comments

bolshoi
@caractacus: The fact that jayb knows so much about America's dark underbelly is probably because he/she has seen it first-hand and not because he/she reads China Daily. I happen to read China Daily (HK edition) myself on a regular basis - there's very little (if any) negative reporting on America if you ask me, unlike its American counterparts who jump at any chance to smear China. Think before you open your mouth, my friend, and yes don't believe everything you read in ANY newspaper, not just China Daily.
zreal
Democracy offers two aspects:
1) A society gets the opportunity to take responsibility for its (collective) decision and action e.g. it may thrive when competent and compatible public officials are elected, it may suffer when the incompetent and incompatible get the seats, and there is no one to blame except thyself as a voter, even if, and especially if one abstains from voting. Note the word 'may' because many things good or bad occur irrespective of good or bad officials.
2) A relatively more natural societal evolution (admittedly a bit of oxymoron in the phrase), whether leading to its expansion or extinction in the long run
mcheung
A very objective assessment of the political climate here in HK!
John Adams
@ bmr
Precisely ! If HK disintegrates into total chaos within a few years of introducing universal suffrage, it will set back China's path to democracy by several generations. That's why we need "democracy with Chinese characteristics" in HK.
It took England about 600 years to develop its democratic system, during which they executed a couple of kings.
But also yes - probably people will just lose interest in politics for a long while if the whole thing is a shambles.
(A few public public executions might brighten things up, however ... :-)
I have a couple of people power candidates in mind after watching the antics on their stand in Wanchai on Monday )
caractacus
I meant that isn't a good reason for NOT having it.
caractacus
You obviously haven't been to America. Don't believe everything you read in China Daily.
shouken
Well said, aguabranca6480, very well said!
HK_eh!
The democratic parties in HK are telling HK people just enough to get votes and attention. Democracy is a compromise, not fantasy promises or favors. Who wouldn't want to live in a democratic society, we all do. Who is willing to make the sacrifices and compromises to make it work? You can see it breaking in the USA, both parties don't work together for the benefit of the people but for special interest groups.
Read up on California and Proposition 13, there's a lesson there when people vote for their own benefits without taking responsibility for the expenses.
Democracy is a balancing act between idealism and realism.
bolshoi
Well done Alex! Democracy is only a means not an end. Plus democracy should come in various shapes and forms, not just the western parliamentary model which may or may not work in a certain setting.

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