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Democracy. . . but for whom?

Henry Ho rebuts an editorial in the Economist on democracy in Hong Kong

I REFER TO THE article “Pliant patriots” in the Leaders Section of The Economist on Jan 8-14 2022. It argued that the newly sworn-in legislature in Hong Kong is a “mockery of democracy”.

While no popular elections were introduced by the British in Hong Kong until its last decade of rule by 1997, “democracy” has already been debated in Hong Kong for four decades. “Democracy” has been narrowly defined as “one-person-one-vote” and the more the number of directly-elected seats, more “democratic” will be our legislature. Other forms of elections are labelled “undemocratic”. This kind of arithmetic is readily understood by primary students but of course largely misleading.

Misleading may be an understatement. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I would say the distortion of “democracy” has been the single largest factor causing the serious rift within Hong Kong, and between Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland. Opposition politicians called themselves “pan-democrats”, effectively labeling other political parties or politicians as “non-democratic” or even “anti-democratic”.


This was indeed an insult to not only the parties and politicians concerned but also their supporters. Is it sensible to suggest at least half of the voters vote for someone who is “anti-democratic”, or someone who works against their interests?

Unfortunately the said article followed the same logic, but along a more scaremongering path. The new electoral system plugged a huge loophole in our previous political system, which allowed elements endangering national security to run and ruin the legislature.

Hong Kong and the Mainland paid a huge cost in the 2019 riots, and the subsequent (and at times violent) disruption of the legislature in 2020. Under the new system, the establishment of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, along with tightened nomination processes, have ensured the current and future legislature to operate strictly within its remit: to focus only on local matters according to Basic Law, the city’s constitutional document.


It is appalling that the article seeks to re-define “patriotism”, which is against so-called “democracy” and hints that it means the “cheerleaders” for the Communist Party. One should have a look at the Article 104 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that lawmakers should swear to uphold the mini-constitution and swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China.

Draconian? Look at the oath of allegiance of US citizenship:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.”

Remember this applies to US citizens, not lawmakers, and there is no such oath if any American wishes to stay in Hong Kong. He or she would get permanent residency automatically after staying for seven years and . . . with voting rights!


The article was right to point out that the ultimate goal of Hong Kong’s political system is universal suffrage, for both the Chief Executive and the legislature.

What it didn’t say was the fact that a reform package for one-man-one-vote for the Chief Executive was vetoed by the so-called “democrats” in 2015. It seems that “democrats” exist to veto any meaningful democratic proposals, so that they could forever “strive for it”, while getting all the support and resources, from Hong Kong and foreign countries.


Democracy is a common value shared by all humanity. Similar to other values, different countries would define, conceive differently, or have a different focus on the same idea due to varying historical, cultural and religious legacies.

It’s high time the Western media respected this and allowed people of Hong Kong to pursue their own democratic path, one which improved governance and resolved deep-seated problems of this city. And one which served the interests of Chinese people, and Chinese people only.

The author is founder and chairman of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum.

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