Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2014
Volume 25
Issue 2
Page Numbers 183-187
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China

On January 22, Xu Zhiyong was tried on charges of gathering a crowd to disrupt public order. The charges stem from Xu’s participation as a founding member of the New Citizens Movement, which exhorts Chinese citizens to seek their rights as laid out by the Chinese constitution. Since 2012, it has organized small demonstrations calling on Communist Party officials to disclose their assets. At his trial, Xu tried to read a lengthy statement but was stopped by the judge after about ten minutes. Xu was sentenced to four years in prison. Below are excerpts from his statement, posted on the website China Change:

Unfortunately, you regard the existence and growth of these citizens as heresy and something to fear. You say we harbored political purposes. Well, we do, and our political purpose is very clear, and it is a China with democracy, rule of law, freedom, justice, and love.

What we want is not to fight to gain power, or barbaric politics by any means, but good politics, a good cause for public welfare, a cause for all citizens to govern the country together. Our mission is not to gain power but to restrict power. We aim to establish a modern and civilized system of democracy and rule of law and lay a foundation for a noble tradition of politics so that later generations can enjoy fairness, justice, freedom and happiness.

Good politics is a result of true democracy and rule of law. On every level, the government and the legislature must be elected by the people. The power to govern should not come from the barrel of a gun but through votes.

Under true democracy and rule of law, politics should be carried out within the rule of law. Political parties should compete fairly and only those that win in free and fair elections are qualified to govern. Under true democracy and rule of law, state powers are scientifically separated and mutually subject to checks and balances; the judiciary is independent [End Page 183] and judges abide by the law and conscience. Under true democracy and rule of law, the military and the police are state organs and should not become the private property of any political party or vested interest group. Under true democracy and rule of law, the media is a social organ and should not be monopolized to be the mouthpiece of any political party or vested interested group. Under true democracy and rule of law, the constitution stipulates and actualizes sacred civil rights, including the right to vote, freedom of speech and freedom of belief. The promise of people’s power should not be a lie.

These modern democratic values and measurements are rooted in common humanity. They should not be Eastern or Western, socialist or capitalist, but universal to all human societies. …

Humans are political animals, in need of more than a full stomach and warm clothes. Humans also need freedom, justice, and participation in governance of their own country. You say the National People’s Congress is China’s highest body of power, then again you say this highest body of power answers to the Party. If the country’s basic political system is such an open lie, how is it possible to build a society that values trust? You say the judiciary is just and that courts hold open trials, then you arrange for unrelated people to come occupy seats reserved for observers in the courtroom. If even the courts resort to such unscrupulousness, where can people expect to find justice? …

China’s biggest problem is falsehood, and the biggest falsehood is the country’s political system and its political ideology. Are you able to even explain clearly what socialism entails? Is or is not the National People’s Congress the highest authority? Political lies know no bounds in this country, and 1.3 billion people suffer deeply from it as a result. Suspicion, disappointment, confusion, anger, helplessness, and resentment are norms of life. Truly, politics affects each and every one of us intimately. We cannot escape politics, we can only work to change it. Power must be caged by the system, and the authoritarian top-down politics must change. I sincerely hope that those in power will find a way to integrate with the trends of human civilization and take an active role in pushing for political reforms and adopt the civilized politics of a constitutional democracy, therein realizing the hundred-year-old Chinese dream of empowering the people through peaceful reforms. …

Following the Cultural Revolution, China’s economic reforms led to a model of incremental reforms in which social controls were relaxed but the old system and its interests remained untouched, although new spaces created by the market slowly eroded the old system as reforms were laid out. Political reforms in China could rely on a similar model, one in which the old system and its interests stay in place as social controls are relaxed and democratic spaces outside the system are permitted to grow in a healthy direction. A model such as this would actually prove a valuable path for China to follow. [End Page 184]

Venezuela

On March 4, former presidents Oscar Arias (Costa Rica), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ricardo Lagos (Chile), and Alejandro Toledo (Peru) issued a joint statement on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. Excerpts from their statement appear below:

We have observed with concern and alarm developments in Venezuela in recent weeks. Peaceful student demonstrations protesting against government policies—a normal feature of any democratic society—have been met with disproportionate repression by security forces and with attacks by illegal armed groups which some sources report are linked to government parties.

These events have given rise to an alarming escalation of violence and a rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. The violence has already cost a number of lives, including those of several people attacked with firearms; detained students have publicly declared that they have suffered torture and inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of the authorities; the independent press has been harassed and efforts made to prevent the media from reporting on what is happening. These include the removal from cable and satellite services of one international television channel and threats to do the same to another, physical attacks on journalists, and limitations on the acquisition of newsprint by the print media. Moreover, civic protests and democratic opposition have been criminalized. Many of the detained students have been threatened with criminal prosecution; Mr. Leopoldo López, leader of an opposition party, has been summarily deprived of his liberty and indicted on several charges that are clearly politically inspired. Other democratic leaders have also been subjected to judicial persecution for political reasons.

We condemn these actions and urge the Venezuelan government and all parties and political actors to establish a constructive debate within the framework of universally recognized democratic principles as set out in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

We call on the government in particular to contribute without delay to the creation of conditions conducive to such a debate, with a shared agenda and without exclusion. To this end, it is indispensable that it immediately cease the persecution of students and opposition leaders, freeing Leopoldo López and all those detained or persecuted for political reasons. Likewise, it is imperative that an independent and transparent investigation be conducted into allegations of torture and other human rights violations, that the harassment of the independent press cease and the signal of the international television channel blocked by the government be restored. … It is also essential that protest demonstrations by opposition parties and other organizations be conducted peacefully, as required in a democratic society and with [End Page 185] due respect for the country’s various authorities under the terms of the Venezuelan constitution. … At the same time, we call on the international community to make a concerted effort to strengthen democracy and preserve the peace in Venezuela.

Tunisia

On January 26, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly, elected in October 2011, approved the country’s first constitution since the ouster of Zine al Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. With 200 of the 216 members present voting in favor, the document received the two-thirds majority needed to avoid being put to a national referendum. The preamble, translated by the Jasmine Foundation, appears below:

We, the representatives of the Tunisian people, members of the National Constituent Assembly,

Taking pride in the struggle of our people to gain independence and to build the state, to eliminate autocracy and achieve its free will; as a realization of the objectives of the revolution of freedom and dignity, the revolution of 17 December 2010–14 January 2011; out of loyalty to the blood of our blessed martyrs and the sacrifices of Tunisian men and women over generations; and to break with oppression, injustice and corruption;

Expressing our people’s commitment to the teachings of Islam and its open and moderate objectives, to sublime human values and the principles of universal human rights, inspired by our civilizational heritage accumulated over successive epochs of our history, and from our enlightened reformist movements that are based on the foundations of our Islamic-Arab identity and human civilization’s achievements, and adhering to the national gains achieved by our people;

With a view to building a participatory, democratic, republican regime, under the framework of a civil state where sovereignty belongs to the people through peaceful rotation of power through free elections, and on the principle of the separation of powers and balance between them; in which the right to association based on pluralism, neutrality of administration and good governance constitutes the basis of political competition; and where the state guarantees supremacy of the law, respect for freedoms and human rights, independence of the judiciary, equality of rights and duties between all male and female citizens and fairness between all regions;

Based on the dignified status of humankind; enhancing our cultural and civilisational affiliation to the Arab Islamic nation, on the basis of national unity that is based on citizenship, brotherhood, solidarity, and social justice; with a view to supporting Maghreb unity as a step towards achieving Arab unity, integrating with the Muslim and African [End Page 186] nations, and cooperating with the peoples of the world; supporting the oppressed everywhere, and the people’s right to self-determination, and for just liberation movements at the forefront of which is the Palestinian liberation movement; and standing against all forms of occupation and racism;

Being aware of the necessity of contributing to a secure climate and the protection of the environment to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources and the sustainability of a safe life for coming generations; and achieving the will of the people to be the makers of their own history, while believing in knowledge, work, and creativity as sublime human values, seeking to become pioneers, and aspiring to contribute to civilization, on the basis of the independence of national decision-making, world peace, and human solidarity;

We, in the name of the people, draft this constitution with God’s blessing.

Ukraine

At the center of the dramatic changes that occurred in Ukraine between December 2013 and March 2014 were the protesters who camped out in the Maidan, a central square in Kyiv. Below are excerpts from a statement issued on December 22 (prior to the February 2014 ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych) by one of the leading groups in the protests, the Civic Sector, seeking to set forth the principles of a new civic movement:

  1. 1. The focus of the movement should be the changing of the system, including but not exclusively focused on those currently in power.
  2. 2. The main instrument of the movement should be the emergence of one candidate for the presidency, who will uphold the obligation to sign the association pact with the EU, and will implement real measures to enact reform within the system, which will work for and with the people. This candidate will also be expected upon coming into power to uphold the system and not let the new powers become usurped. …
  3. 4. The structure of this movement should be peaceful, and we should remember, that the fact is that citizens of this country trust individuals more than members of political parties. Therefore this movement cannot have a political party structure.
  4. 5. The ruling principles of this movement should be the same principles which helped form Maidan: self-organization and self-defense, the idea of not one but many leaders, responsibility, and help for all.
  5. 6. The law of the movement should be open access to financial records online, in real time, and other attributes of a transparent government.
  6. 7. The movement must be open to negotiations. [End Page 187]