Without democracy, freedom dies

  • Freedom of expression: protesters in central Hong Kong yesterday (Photograph by Kin Cheung/AP)

    Freedom of expression: protesters in central Hong Kong yesterday (Photograph by Kin Cheung/AP)

Much of the world is witnessing struggles in which powerful leaders are more concerned about absolute control than permitting true democracy to prevail. This really gives power to the people on crucial decisions that affect their daily lives.

When democracy, which gives real power to the people on decisions that affect their daily lives, is shoved aside by those who resent anyone that opposes their brand of leadership, freedom of expression crumbles and the gate swings open for the law of the jungle — where only the strong survive.

It also creates an atmosphere where fear and suppression become weapons used to silence the weak and oppressed.

Democracy is under siege not only in war-torn countries, where people die daily in pitched battles with little or no voice over conditions. There are growing signs that while the world is concerned about the effects of climate change, there needs to be more focus on protecting democracy and the people’s right to question those in authority without suffering consequences.

Democracy also allows the free press to use their highest professional skills to be the watchdog for keeping leaders accountable, even at the price of being labelled as “the enemy of the people”.

That description alone should set off alarms bells. Dictatorial regimes fear the free press because ultimate power is more important for them than values most people cherish in a free society.

What the world has been witnessing in Hong Kong recently, with massive violent demonstrations against mainland China, is yet another chapter of people who feel freedom they enjoyed under the British has been snatched away, as China once again reclaims Hong Kong and exerts its rule of law.

In an emotionally moving ceremony held in pouring rain in 1997, the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, spoke of the hope that a mutual arrangement would exist between China and Hong Kong that would keep in place much of what had been achieved in Hong Kong as a thriving centre of expanding success.

However, beneath the glitter of a ceremony at which schoolchildren sang along with a pipe band to signify a growing friendship, there was a feeling that the road ahead under Chinese rule would not be a smooth transition. After a dazzling firework display to end the ceremony, in the distance were trucks loaded with soldiers from the mainland, ready to make their way into Hong Kong to begin the takeover.

While China intended to assert its authority early, the people of Hong Kong were determined to preserve a way of life they knew, which reflected democracy and the right of free expression.

This meant the stage was set for confrontation, as the people of Hong Kong openly resisted any return of iron-fisted authority with China calling the shots.

The real issue here is that dictatorial regimes with great power are seldom willing to abandon such power, and democracy is never on their menu on how to run a country.

In that climate, the people are left to decide whether to accept authoritarian rule or what price they are willing to pay for a life in a democratic society. The latter could involve significant sacrifice.

No country, no matter how prosperous, should take democracy for granted. At the first sign of questionable conduct by leaders who fail to carry the torch of justice, truth and freedom, there should be open condemnation by all who believe in what democracy stands for.

There are no easy solutions, but without democracy, freedom dies.

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Published Oct 12, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 12, 2019 at 8:27 am)

Without democracy, freedom dies

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