"Diminished democracy will cause more harm to its people"

"Diminished democracy will cause more harm to its people"

The following is a statement by Jolovan Wham and Rachel Zeng, organisers of Democracy Now! Singapore in Solidarity with Hong Kong, in response to Singapore Law Minister, Mr K Shanmugam’s remarks about Occupy Central protest in Hong Kong.
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In an interview with the Chinese daily, Lianhe Zaobao, Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr K Shanmugam said that Hong Kongers should be happy with Beijing’s offer since the territory never had democracy under British rule. Moreover, what Beijing was offering was more than what the British had ever granted. Prior to the handover, neither the British rulers nor the Hong Kong media clamoured for democracy. Further remarks were made that there has been a lot of anti-China bias in Western media reporting on the issue.

Just because mass protests and widespread media support for universal suffrage did not happen under British rule does not make current calls for freedom any less legitimate. Freedom and justice does not have an expiry date and there is never a right or wrong time to fight for freedom. In addition, any suggestion that the Western media is biased in its account of the protests needs to be seen in light of how Hong Kong’s media and reporters are under assault by China’s central government.

The argument that universal suffrage was not included in the Sino-British Joint Declaration does not take into account the point that the Declaration itself promised Hong Kong a ‘high degree of autonomy’ and it was only in areas of diplomacy and defence that Hong Kong would not have any control over. In fact, the Basic Law states that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive should be selected via universal suffrage. Therefore, any assertion that China has acted according to Basic Law is not necessarily accurate.

Unity and progress, prosperity and democracy are not concepts which are diametrically opposed to each other. In the face of rising inequality, where the majority of a country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, there are legitimate fears that the lack of genuine democracy in Hong Kong may further entrench plutocracy and crony capitalism. Moreover, Beijing’s pre-screened candidates could continue to erode Hong Kong’s fundamental freedoms such as its judicial independence. Freedom of speech will most likely be curtailed, leading to newspapers and media outlets turning into mouthpieces of the government. Civil servants of government departments will be told to be ‘patriotic’ to China.

The Foreign Affairs Minister argues that Hong Kong should not emulate the partisan politics of countries such as the United States as it may lead to gridlocks which hinder growth and decision making. It is correct that Hong Kong should chart its own path to democratic reform. But it has to be remembered that a diminished democracy will cause more harm to its people in the long run. When institutions do not have independent processes, it is vulnerable to abuse, no matter how noble or genuine the intentions of politicians. Without the right to elect our own leaders, those who are incompetent, or who do not act in the interests of the people can remain in power for as long as they desire.

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