Patriotism for officeholders a given in almost all countries

As the seventh-term Legislative Council election concludes, 20 seats are confirmed by the entire population of Hong Kong by a single non-transferable vote system. Among the 35 contestants for the 10 directly elected geographical constituencies, two are selected in each of the geographical constituencies. Despite the Western media framing the election as a “controlled democracy”, competition has been fiercer than ever. 

Around the globe, democracy is a means for collective deliberation. It is a process by which people contribute ideas and reach a consensus to govern a country or region to reach a common end — improving people’s standard of living, including food, medicine and quality of life. Rather than advocating unchained freedom to expand personal interests at the expense of other people’s, democracy should serve society’s interest as a whole. For example, it is against the law to kill your neighbors because it constrains their freedom to live. In the West, painting capitalist colors on the notion of democracy has locked people into an intergenerational relay race — those whose parents and grandparents have held onto the most resources may find themselves benefiting exponentially from further rent-seeking behavior after the baton was passed. Western capitalists exploited democracy when it was nascent. The rich got much more than the poor and held onto it. Affluent capitalists then disproportionately magnified their influence by forming solidarity groups comprising people with similar vested interests. The poor had neither the money nor the ability to organize groups of similar scale. The upshot of encouraging individualistic values to rampage through society is a yawning wealth gap. This is far from what the fathers of democracy envisioned. They imagined democracy to advance societal interests via a balance of interests and cross-functional collaboration. Democracy in society should look more like a three-legged race where the left leg of a runner is strapped to the right leg of another than an individual sprint. 

To that end, China is leading the world in democratic governance. The LegCo election in Hong Kong crystallizes such spirit. For one, the notion of pluralism is reinforced. Splitting geographical constituencies into 10 areas instead of five encourages diverse interests to be heard in the Legislative Council. Residents can tell stories and voice concerns relevant specifically to their communities. Another 40 seats of LegCo are elected by the Election Committee, an electoral college represented by 1,500 electors coming from all sectors in Hong Kong, spanning across the hotel, legal, medical, grassroots, rural representatives and more. That means candidates vying for one of the 40 seats need to show dedication to serve the interests of most sectors. Elected councilors will be incentivized to propose and execute reforming plans to revive communities. Less bickering over abstractions is expected. Hence, administrative efficiency is more likely to prevail in the culture of LegCo.

More importantly, the recent overhaul of the election system stimulated political parties to create novel strategies to win votes. Contestants can no longer campaign by touting the ideology they believe in alone. Rather, they compete on policies that can best improve voters’ quality of life and the environment of their communities. These are issues that pertain to the prosperity of the special administrative region and the well-being of the people. Moreover, since each contestant can only compete in one constituency, political factions had to rack their brains when deciding on which member to endorse in the Geographical Constituency versus the Election Committee Constituency. Combining seats that represent the entire region of Hong Kong and the seats that won the hearts of most sectors, the resultant legislature is a bunch who will tirelessly fight for the interests of the people they represent. If feuding over ideologies is counterproductive to societal progress, the new LegCo is certain to make greater strides by improving people’s livelihoods. Pragmatic politicking — contrary to the Republicans’ threat to default on US debts as a leverage against Democrats, and throwing the Congress and the world out of kilter — should serve as a new beacon of democracy. Other countries may take note of how getting rid of fringe beliefs that once took administration processes hostage helps meet the needs of people.

Discourse on the process aside, any ideology should abide by two overarching principles in a country. First, the majority of people should aim to advance the interests of society as a whole, especially when it comes into conflict with personal interests. Second, people within the same jurisdiction should love one another. And by extension, that means being caring and being loyal to people in the same society, the long form of “patriotism”. In almost all countries in the world, being a patriot is a prerequisite to working in government sectors lest national security is compromised. Republicans, Democrats, Tories or Labour Party members all vow to serve in the best interest of their countries. In fact, this is a given that countries should not bother to challenge. That anarchy is often against the best interest of the people proves the significance of this principle. For the interests of the majority of people, secession laws are in place in most countries around the world, including Western countries, to thwart attempts to topple the governing regime. 

In China, most ordinary people have taken on the narrative of “the Party to be the people and the people to be the Party”. Before forcing stakeholders of the world into a Mexican standoff, the West must realize such a fundamental shift in the beliefs of the Chinese people. And it is because of but not despite this belief that Western countries need more than ever to display the qualities they oftentimes peddle to the world — bravado to embrace change and disposition to exchange experiences and transform. For as John Locke quipped, “the mind is furnished with ideas by experience alone”, and therefore China is as much an avant-garde of democracy as, if not more than, the rest of the world.

The author is a licensed medical doctor in Hong Kong (MBBS, HKU) and holds a master of public health degree from Johns Hopkins University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.