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Use Knowledge Mindfully

I cannot possibly emphasise enough how important it is to have sound knowledge and a heart in the right place when it comes to politics and public affairs.

The ongoing drama of the U.S. Presidential elections is a tell-tale lesson for any budding politician to learn from. This is the election for one of the most advanced and important democracies on earth. The US election procedure represents the 'best-tried' system, i.e. a combination of political party nominations and 'one man, one vote' to reflect a well-balanced proportional representation of the different US states. Yet, there was great confusion and endless political and legal debate before the true 'leader' was decided upon. So what went wrong?

A historical event like this will always provide political commentators with the opportunity to propound different theories and analogies. Personally, I have quite a different theory: there is nothing wrong with the system.

In the challenging game of golf, there is a well-known idiom. 'There is nothing wrong with the game, but only the faults of the golfers'. The U.S. electorate system has already stood the test of time. The recent ongoing saga is more a result of the self-interest of political factions, than the direct consequence of the system's faults.

Let our judgement not be clouded by romantic ideology. The constitutional design of many of our modern democracies is based on elements such as social class, and the beliefs of differing local governments and functional constituencies. It is clearly not based on any universally accepted benevolent ideology. This principle is fine in itself, but how these models work largely depends on us, the politicians, rather than on the systems.

In short, there cannot be, and there will not be a perfect model for any country in absolute terms. A 'best-fit' solution may emerge depending on how the interest groups resolve their differences. It is the latter that I wish to emphasize here. This is the grey area where knowledge and ideology play a lesser part, making politics an art, rather than a science; a pragmatic profession rather than simply a noble cause. Ignoring these principles will only create a world of adversaries and confrontations.

The U.S. Presidential election has yielded a positive lesson from which we can learn. The US democracy is mature, and I am sure that all of the political factions will support the elected president. His legitimacy and authority are unlikely to be seriously challenged until the next legally held election or only if he makes an extremely serious blunder. A mature electorate and a tolerant culture founded on mutual respect and acceptance will provide much-needed stability. The same cannot be said for many of the more newly formed democracies in Asia, Hong Kong being no exception.

Hong Kong's previous British administration spent years building an elaborate consultation system to resolve and mediate conflict. This system has generally worked well. However, in the past decade or so, the advent of elected politics has fundamentally destablised these old routines.

Today's inquisitive and combative politicians are jostling for their own niche political positions in the never-ending election game. In their present mode, Hong Kong's politicians are only too ready to defy the Government, blatantly ignoring the community's overriding need to resolve conflicts collectively. A new solution needs to be found and I am confident that one will be found. Any apparent instability will be short term and the people of Hong Kong are likely to become wiser for it during the search process.

A case in point is the recent debate on the Public Order Ordinance. On the one hand, the government and the police have stood, firm in defending the need for seven days' advance notice for holding a public demonstration. On the other, students and human rights groups are demanding absolute, unfettered freedom of procession as a matter of constitutional right. Neither is willing to yield, and a stalemate has resulted. If this emotive matter is not rationally resolved soon, it may be just a matter of time before a confrontation occurs. And an inconsequential vote taken by LegCo will do little to resolve the underlying conflict.

In my view, having spoken to many young people and based on a quick survey amongst my accountancy functional constituents, it is obvious that the majority of people recognise the need for the police to maintain public order. The same group of people also accept that some form of advance notice is needed, but hesitate to call it a 'pre-approval' process. They would object strongly if the right to hold a public procession is denied on political grounds.

On the whole, most of the people I have contacted find the present legislation acceptable, especially in view of the slightly edgy political and social sentiment we are experiencing following the Asian financial crises. However, this does not mean a public discussion would be unproductive and that there is no room for improvement.

I have cited this well-debated case as an example to demonstrate that our imperfect political structure requires patience, good-will, tolerance and mutual respect from all sides. As I have said before, most problems occur in 'the mind' and not just in the system.

I recently flew to Sydney to support our paralympians. I think they truly deserve our greatest respect and admiration. As athletes, they suffer from varying degrees of disability. But together, through sheer determination, mutual support and a focused mind, they have overcome huge obstacles, placing Hong Kong high up in the global league.

We need freedom for knowledge and humanity to flourish and progress. But in this less-than-perfect world we share where the powerful, the rich, the scholars, the meek, the poor and the ignorant all have equally important views, it is our ability to tolerate each other and show mutual respect for different views that will create our political culture.


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