Let’s step back and ask why we want democracy

South China Morning Post | 2008-01-08 
EDT13| EDT| By Dennis Kwok 


Paul Johnson, George Washington’s biographer, wrote that the ability to always think in the long term was one of Washington’s greatest attributes. In Hong Kong, do our politicians have that kind of long-term vision for our city and our country?


Since the National People’s Congress Standing Committee announced its decision on the future development of Hong Kong’s constitutional reform, commentators, academics and politicians have unleashed a hail of analysis and re-analysis of democracy in Hong Kong and how and when to achieve it.


In the midst of these debates, marches and sit-ins, it is easy to overlook why we want democracy in the first place. It is all too easy to forget why we believe democracy would make for a better system of government in the long term.


I believe it is time to take one step back from the current debate and ask ourselves these basic questions.


Our aspiration for democracy stems from our core belief that a democratic system creates a level playing field which allows the true competition of ideas and public policies.


We believe that, if society allows competition to flourish in the political arena, it will force politicians and political parties to come up with better policies and better ideas to win the hearts of their constituents.


We believe that democracy produces better governance because it ensures competition, not complacency. Democracy forces our political leaders to keep pushing the frontier of change for a better society. Our politicians are currently obsessed about the details of our future constitutional framework and each camp is busy developing strategies.


While the details of the system are important, let us remember that a system can only be as good as the people it comprises, and the ideas and values they hold.


Should Hong Kong ever achieve a truly democratic system (the sooner the better), it would only improve the lives of our citizens and future generations if our politicians and political parties were able to deliver sound, sensible and well-researched policies for the public to choose.


In recent years, we have witnessed a healthy growth of public policy think-tanks, but how many political parties in Hong Kong are taking the issue of policy research seriously?


How many of our politicians are coming up with sound policy ideas to tackle the challenges we face?


When was the last time you heard a politician offer a workable solution on, for instance, how best to improve our education system, which ranks 63rd among 131 nations in terms of expenditure in the World Economic Forum’s 2007-2008 Global Competitive Report?


Or what about policies to deal with air pollution in Hong Kong? We know that Guangdong is already facing severe water shortages due to pollution and wastage. China Daily reported that by 2020, the shortfall will widen to about half of the province’s water demand if nothing is done.


Hong Kong depends heavily for its water from the same supplies in Guangdong.


In the long term, this problem could send Hong Kong back to the 1960s when people had to queue during shortages with water buckets.


Even if we achieve universal suffrage by 2020, how would our politicians tackle such long-term challenges?


It is time for the pan-democrats to remind themselves and the Hong Kong people that the reason we want democracy is because we believe it brings good governance; and that we must plant the seed of good governance today, and not wait until 2020.


This year, The Professional Commons will publish a series of policy research papers looking into these challenges. Universal suffrage is a means to an end. Let’s not lose sight of our long-term goal.




Dennis Kwok is a founding member of The Professional Commons


Copyright (c) 2008. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. 



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