If Hong Kong truly wants to embrace democracy, then we have to learn to accept different views

Alice Wu says the resignation of another party moderate is a sign that people in Hong Kong still have not learned the art of embracing differences of opinion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 September, 2015, 9:36am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 September, 2015, 9:36am

Tik Chi-yuen's formal resignation from the Democratic Party came as no surprise. Friends part ways; it's part of life. It's the sort of "closure" that is needed for all parties to move on from the havoc caused by Hong Kong's last attempt at democratic reforms.

Closure is one thing, but moving on takes actual effort. It's encouraging to see that the pan-democrats are making the effort to cooperate and work on unity as they look ahead to the district council elections. It's a definite sign of political maturity; finding common ground and collaborating is a good place to start.

But Tik's resignation is also a reminder that finding common ground and collaborating is easy only if everyone agrees with one another. As the world celebrates International Day of Democracy tomorrow, there is perhaps no better time for us, and the city's pan-democrats, to take a hard look at what democracy entails.

One measurement is not how well we can work with assenting voices, but with dissenting ones. The 1997 "Universal Declaration on Democracy" called on democratic institutions "to mediate tensions and maintain equilibrium between the competing claims of diversity and uniformity, individuality and collectivity, in order to enhance social cohesion and solidarity".

The my-way-or-the-highway kind of 'democracy' - one that leaves no room for different views - is simply not the sort we should aspire to

We must ask ourselves what Tik's resignation - and that of Ronny Tong Ka-wah and Nelson Wong Sing-chi earlier - tells us. In Tik's resignation letter, he wrote: "It's a pity that we have come under pressure from outside which has made no room for [the party] to allow, tolerate and accept different voices." The way the party treated Tik and Wong for having differing opinions was not a proud moment, at least in the "democratic" sense. There was nothing "democratic" in the hostility and ostracism so publicly on display. Unfortunately, the recent response of Emily Lau Wai-hing, the party's chairwoman, to Tik's decision was not exactly one of "tolerance" or gracefulness. She said neither Tik nor Wong shared the same cause as the party.

Perhaps Lau should have simply respected their decisions. Perhaps she had conveniently forgotten that they founded the party together. The party may have evolved - hence the need for a parting of ways - but to condemn original founders for not sharing the party cause is perhaps taking things too far.

This is also perhaps indicative of why she, as party leader, has failed to promote the very values she claims to champion.

John F. Kennedy once said: "Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather, it condemns the oppression of persecution of others."

Democracy cannot be monopolised. The my-way-or-the-highway kind of "democracy" - one that leaves no room for different views - is simply not the sort we should aspire to.

What is most sad about these three moderates having no choice but to resign from the parties they founded is that they were the ones who believed in politics - that within every daunting circumstance lies the possibility of a way forward. They resigned from being resigned to a purely rejectionist approach. Politics is the art of the possible and they were ostracised for believing that.

In fighting for our democratic ideals, we must ask ourselves whether we have lost sight of what democracy requires. Tolerance requires that we embrace, even celebrate, differences. That is an integral part of democracy. In our quest for democracy, how have we contributed to what the "Universal Declaration on Democracy" calls safeguarding people's "right to be different" and creating "a climate of tolerance"?

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA