Note: This article represents the view of the author and not the University of Hong Kong.
On December 3, Taiwan conducted its 「three in one」 elections, and the pan-blues defeated the greens with a landslide victory. I was there in Taipei.
On December 4, almost a hundred thousand people took to the streets calling for universal suffrage. I was there on the street.
In the 12.3 local elections in Taiwan, Kuomintang took 14 of the 23 city and county magistrate constituencies, 6 more than its original 8.
In the 12.4 rally in Hong Kong, nearly 100 thousand people turned out, almost double that of people』s expectation.
When the pan-blues were just beginning to celebrate their victory, KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou told his supporters, 「Just one night』s celebration is enough. There are still many problems and challenges ahead, we shouldn』t waste too much time celebrating.」 Meanwhile, many pan-green candidates humbly bow themselves to the outcome of the democratic election.
The beauty of democracy lies in its peaceful transferal of political power.
After a hundred thousand people took to the street, in the most peaceful and rational manner, the controversy on the following day was whether it was 60 thousand or 250 thousand people! Figures turned into a bet, plus a funny question whether children should also be counted! Is it because the organizers were unwise? Or because Hong Kong people have got so used to gambling?
Why can』t we have science and democracy at the same time?
Both 12.3 and 12.4 are milestones of democratic development in Chinese societies. This 「one two three four」 experience, however, has brought out a question of appropriate supporting institutions for a democratic society…
Taiwan has gone a long way in developing its formal democracy, as party rotation is slowly taking place, but it still lacks good supporting institutions. Both before and after the 12.3 local elections, the credibility of the opinion survey continued to decline, and the people remained skeptical about the independence of the media.
In Hong Kong, while institutional democracy is far from being seen, we are doing a rather good job in protecting human rights and governance by the rule of law. Although the credibility of opinion polls and media is sometimes challenged, generally speaking, they are doing fine.
How will the development of democracy in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and perhaps Mainland China as well, converge? Can they ever converge? There is still no known answer. From the perspective of democratic development, both Taiwan and Hong Kong are at a crossroads in their own democratic development.
At the very moment, the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong has collaborated with the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) to organize an international conference on 「Public Opinion: East Meets West」, in order to bring in international experience. Let』s face the world. In December, Hong Kong has more to offer other than just hosting the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization.
Our conference will not be officiated by top ranking officials or governing elites, but neither do we have any restricted areas for speech or protests. What we have is free interflow and sharing. Scholars and experts from all over the world, with frontline public opinion researchers, will gather to discuss the relations between public opinion research and democratic development, the significance of opinion polling, the responsibility of journalists, the trimming of freedom to publish opinion polls around the world, and so on.
The conference is non-profitable in nature, our objective is purely to promote civic education as a community service of our Public Opinion Programme. We have made use of this opportunity to translate three important documents into Chinese, namely, 「20 Questions a Journalist should ask about Poll Results」, 「The Freedom to Publish Opinion Polls」 and 「Who』s afraid of Election Polls?」, which will be dispatched free at the conference.
The international conference on 「Public Opinion: East Meets West」 is planned completely by our Public Opinion Programme, it will be held for three days starting tomorrow, at the Wang GungWu Lecture Theatre of the Graduate House in the University of Hong Kong. Although we have spent for more than a year planning for it, due to the lack of resources, it is bound to be imperfect.
Nevertheless, let us hope that after this conference, there will be something for Chinese societies to remember, something worthwhile for our democratic development, other than our experience of 「one two three four」.
Robert Ting-Yiu Chung
December 7, 2005