Thursday, March 6, 2014

"I have been too comfortable"

Hong Kong tries hard for democracy but China will not stand for it. Imposing democracy from top is a difficult exercise (as seen in India), it will take decades for the masses to catch on (if at all).

Still an imperfect democracy is better for people like us (we like to talk freely, we would like to talk even more freely but democracy constrains us), others may prefer the higher growth standards of autocracies (based on anecdotes it appears that the Indian middle and elite class - like Robert Young quoted below- heavily favor autocracies where the rights of the poor people will be even more curtailed than it already is).

As he lay on the tarmac of a central Hong Kong street, gazing up at the skyscrapers, Chan Kin-man came to a realisation. "I have been living a very comfortable life – up in an office, writing articles, encouraging people to negotiate. Suddenly, I have to prepare myself to go to jail. "It was a very striking moment for me," said the 55-year-old academic later. "I have been too comfortable. And at some point, Hong Kong people have to sacrifice something to make people believe we are serious about democracy." His epiphany came during a test run for Occupy Central, a pro-reform civil disobedience campaign that wants to see thousands take over Hong Kong's financial district – much to Beijing's alarm.

On Thursday, one of China's top leaders reportedly said that importing a western-style democratic system to the region could prove catastrophic. Zhang Dejiang, who heads the leading group on Hong Kong affairs, said that copying a foreign electoral system could "become a democracy trap … and possibly bring a disastrous result", Ma Fung-kwok, a delegate at Thursday's closed-door meeting, told Reuters.
Britain showed little interest in developing democracy in Hong Kong until the 1997 handover to China loomed. Then, under the "one country, two systems" framework, it negotiated greater freedoms for the region and a commitment to eventual universal suffrage.

Authorities agree votes for all should be adopted when the region has a new chief executive in 2017, but want to ensue there are no unwelcome candidates. "It is obvious that the chief executive has to be a person who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and doesn't oppose the central government," the region's chief secretary for administration, Carrie Lam, has said.

Opponents complain that nominations will be channelled through a committee packed with Beijing loyalists, and want the public to gain the right to put candidates forward too. Unless Beijing shifts by the end of the year, Occupy's organisers say they will risk their careers and freedom to press for change.

Chan and his co-founders – Benny Tai, another academic, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming – hardly appear rabble rousers. Chan peppers conversation with references to the sociologist Jürgen Habermas. The full name of the movement is the hippy-ish Occupy Central with Love and Peace. Non-violent civil disobedience – modelled on the activism of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi – would be the last resort, after mass deliberative meetings that would form the basis for negotiations by the opposition pan-democratic parties that are backing Occupy.But opponents claim the campaign threatens chaos.

Robert Chow Young, a television host and a leader of the pro-business Silent Majority group, called the campaigners evil. He paints a graphic picture of a paralysed city and plunging stockmarket, with law and order breaking down. "Let us not let some dreaming, wild-thinking person think they can be immortalised by doing something crazy. Why should we suffer for them? What do we stand to gain?" he asked. "Nothing. What do we stand to lose? Everything."

A poll by the non-partisan Hong Kong Transition Project (pdf) found that 54% were opposed to Occupy Central, and only 38% supported it – though were Beijing to warn against participation, campaigners would gain support.


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