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Published: 10:13, May 24, 2022 | Updated: 10:22, May 24, 2022
How well a govt serves its people is measure of success
By Ho Lok-sang
Published:10:13, May 24, 2022 Updated:10:22, May 24, 2022 By Ho Lok-sang

The League of Social Democrats displayed a banner on the election day for the chief executive at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. They wanted to protest against the delay in implementing universal suffrage to elect the chief executive and to demand “double universal suffrage”. The banner read: “Human rights are higher than the political regime; people are bigger than the State.” 

Human rights are indeed important, and so are people. Since governments are there to serve the people, any government that fails to serve the people is by definition a failing regime because serving the people is the raison d’etre of any government. Interestingly, no government subscribes to this basic principle more than the Communist Party of China. By the same token, the central government does expect the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to serve the people wholeheartedly and effectively.

Exactly because any government should do its best to serve the people, the CPC wants to make sure that the right person takes up the top job. A corrupt or an inept person who is able only to attract votes will certainly not serve the people well. One should therefore ask: “Is universal suffrage bigger than the people?” At this juncture, in particular, with the United States bent on suppressing China’s rise, it is resorting to various tricks to undermine China’s success. Compared to the interests of the people, universal suffrage is far less important. Americans have their votes, but they still cannot elect a government that is able to stem gun violence. A quick search on the internet produced the figure of 20,726 gun deaths in 2021. The figure excludes suicides and is a new high since the Gun Violence Archive began recording the statistics. Gun-violence deaths have been climbing almost year after year, and none of the administrations elected thus far has been able to tackle the problem.

Too bad many people confuse means and ends. Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said recently that one should choose to be an upright person who seeks the truth and who has a loving heart. This is well said, but to be a truthful and loving person, one also has to be humble. Without humility, one becomes arrogant, and one may then unwittingly dictate one’s will on others. Last year a 17-year-old girl from Uttar Pradesh’s Devariya district in India was killed by her grandfather and uncles for wearing jeans in the village. The killers thought they were doing the right thing. To think subjectively that one is an upright and loving person is not enough; one needs also to have the wisdom to judge what is in the best interests of the people whom one loves. If you love the people of Hong Kong, you would not create havoc by blockading Hong Kong’s thoroughfares, ransacking the Legislative Council building, vandalizing traffic lamps, MTR stations, and shops, and even setting fire to people who hold a different view. You would prefer to restore Hong Kong to peace. If you are an upright and loving person, you would not discriminate against visitors from the Chinese mainland, and you would respect other people’s choices. If you are open-minded and not a slave to ideology, you will see what the Chinese government has done for its people, and you would not call it a “totalitarian” state. You would ask: Is China serving its people and the world better, or is the US serving its people and the world better?

The top leaders of China are selected based on merit from among the populace. The key question is whether this will serve the country better than “free and open elections”. Given human nature as it is, those who seek election have to attract votes through promises of different kinds, and they tend to focus on short-term results. As they need political donations from wealthy people and from businesses, they have to look after their interests, often more than the interests of the general public. We cannot say, a priori, which system is “more democratic”.

Mencius put it very well: “People must come first, next come the state, and last come the ruler.” As Mr John Lee Ka-chiu put it in his manifesto after he announced he would run for the CE post, he will bring in key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge how the government performs. More recently, he explained that the KPI is not there to assess the performance of individual officials but the performance of the government. But what exactly should the KPI be? In the business world, the KPI could be sales or profit, or some other quantifiable indicators that would goad executives to deliver and serve shareholder interests. In the case of the government, the KPI must be how well the government serves its people.

Although serving the people is the final goal of every government, we will need more specific instrumental goals. Identifying achievable instrumental goals for the short term, medium term, and long term, and going about to achieve them are then the government’s key tasks. The League of Social Democrats would do well to help the government identify these goals to serve as KPIs, rather than being fixated on “double universal suffrage”.

The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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