The current pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong is yet another example of a push for good, local, democratic governance. China’s move to limit the electoral freedom of Hong Kong might have served as an immediate cause, the protest is a reflection of the growing consensus for accountable governance. A movement that was witnessed in the Arab Spring, and currently in Ukraine and Syria.
China plans to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive position via a pro-Beijing committee, which if successful, could affect the city’s democratic and pro-capitalist norms. Hong Kong, the world’s third financial center next to London and New York, is known for its economic freedom, and financial and economic competitiveness, which has been proliferated by moderate democracy and local governance. Hence, China’s intervention in Hong Kong’s political freedom of the city will also affect its economic status. A pro-democracy protester explained why he and others are protesting: “the reason we are here is for universal suffrage and the future of our democracy.”
These recent threats of infringement on Hong Kong’s political freedom have catalyzed protests that reflect a growing global consensus in favor of local democratic governance. People are increasingly standing up against autocracy after continuous oppression and unmet promises. The World Bank states that local democratic governance provides three distinct benefits for people: better allocative efficiency of public goods, better accountability due to proximity of principals and agents, and competition among local governments in terms of tax, policies and social services.
In an era of financial crisis, high rates of unemployment and vast inequality, the global community – especially youth – is demanding accountability and transparency. The rationale is that through local democratic governance, citizens will actively participate in decision makings that affects their daily lives and hold elected officials accountable. Ensuring accountability will help solve governance problems and defective economic policies that have catalyzed much of the current global crisis – social, economic, and political.
For the past two years, The Hunger Project has been assessing the impact of local democratic governance on social and economic development in the world through the State of Participatory Democracy Report in collaboration with United Nation’s Democratic Fund (UNDEF). THP’s Vice President John Coonrod states that this report has been carried out because “local governance determines issues that really matter to people’s daily life – water, sanitation, primary health care, primary education, year-round access to affordable and nutritious food, access to markets and employment opportunities, basic safety and social justice.” All of these issues must be resolved locally. Hence, they all depend on accountable and effective local governance.