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China’s perspective: Democracy can’t taste the same across the world

China is a force to reckon with in the world’s economic space, with most narrations painting a cold war with the United States of America. Being a powerful player in world affairs has attracted more scrutiny into China as a state. Whilst its confrontations with other world powers centre on economic issues, critics have found an easy way to poke at China.

They say it is undemocratic; hence its system of governance borders on authoritarianism. However, China offers a different perspective. This discussion focuses on the central question, the actual meaning of ‘democracy’, and the finding is that an agreement still seems far away. Most political theorists have by now given up hope and have moved on to more promising areas of inquiry. Effectively, this paper suggests that democracies are varied, and in most instances, influenced by the culture and socio-economic factors of different environments.

Let’s go by the Merriam-Webster (1828) definition of democracy: ‘a democratic system of government is a form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodic free elections’. Based on this definition, very little suggests that China does not qualify as a democracy. China’s worry with the democracy narrative tends to be assessed using the ‘western template’, a complaint shared by many of Africa’s so-called undemocratic states.

Since 1978, China has experienced economic marketisation and a degree of political liberalization Lu Chunlong (2011). Ignoring this development, some commentators, out of narrow intentions, have tried to portray China’s relations with the West as a competition between democracy and authoritarianism, seeking to draw the line along with ideology and pin labels on countries. Lu (2011) further notes, “recent studies on political culture, while not comprehensive, have suggested the emergence of democratic values, thus presenting a picture of hope for the prospect of Chinese democracy”.

This demonstrates that China appreciates the principle of democracy. However, leaders in the Asian giant have argued that China’s socialist democracy is a whole-process, most representative democracy. According to documents linked to the Communist Party of China (CPC), the country’s democracy embodies the will of the people, fits the country’s realities and is endorsed by the people. China has consistently argued that it is undemocratic in itself to label China as “authoritarian” or “dictatorship” simply because China’s democracy takes a different form than that of the West.

Admittedly, China’s reforms, however, are evolving very rapidly. Her unique political development model is distinct from the traditional Soviet Union Socialist model and diverges from the Western liberal democratic style. Unger and Chan (1995) argue that the Chinese political model challenges Western literature’s classic liberal democratic theory and raises questions: Is democracy a standard value for all humankind? Does a non-liberal form of democracy exist?

These concerns also attract the most heated debates about Chinese democratic reform within China since the founding of the nation in 1949. In their view, Unger and Chan (1995) submit that this political discourse in China is concentrated on questions like, What is the relationship between democracy and social modernisation? Does western-style democracy also apply in China? Is there a Chinese model of democracy? Is democracy an opportunity or a challenge for China?

Studies continue to suggest the emergence of democratic values in China. One of such studies by Lu Chunlong (2004) based its conclusions on public opinion surveys and suggested that Chinese political culture is in transition. For example, Ogden (2002) suggests, “China has inklings of a democratic political culture in certain respects and not in others”. Ogden is optimistic about the prospect of Chinese democracy. Huntington (2002) concludes that Chinese political culture will move closer to the patterns characteristic of democratic countries as the economy grows.

In a more recent study, Shi (2012) also finds that higher education and income levels play a significant role in making people transcend their traditional culture. Various studies suggest that people with higher education and income tend to perceive their relationship with authority as reciprocal but are also more willing to enter into conflict with others to assert their interests – this is a characteristic of China today.

After presenting that well-educated and wealthy Chinese people are more likely to possess democratic values, Chu and Chang (2008) conclude: “socio-economic development is positively correlated with demand for democratic principles, suggesting that modernisation generally facilitates the growth in democratic-value orientation”. This theory emphasises the importance of the middle class as a friend of democracy. With a massive population of over 1.4 billion people, China certainly has one of the most significant middle-class demographics, an inherent ingredient for a democracy.

With China’s economic development, so the country’s middle class has grown significantly, both in absolute number and in percentage relative to the whole population (Ogden, 2002). This social class owns most of the economic and cultural capital; therefore, this discussion finds that China’s leaders will have to accustom their government system to the aspirations of this influential group. Moreover, Huntington (2002) finds that at a time when the Chinese government is more ready to talk about “socialist democracy”, “democracy” has thus become a legitimate and popular word, even though the meaning may differ from that applied to the word and the concept as used in the Western world. “Thus, when Chinese citizens express support for democracy, it may be that support is for a meaning different to that understood by a citizen of an established, advanced industrial democracy” (Huntington, 2002).

One of the documents belonging to the Communist Party of China (CPC) states thus: “the CPC was established with the mission to pursue happiness for the people. With the slogans of anti-dictatorship, anti-autocracy and anti-oppression, it enabled the people to become master of their own country and won the people’s hearts. As the governing party, it has remained faithful to its founding mission: people-centred and serving the people whole-heartedly. What China today is whole-process democracy.

According to law, the people have the right to an election, and they can be broadly involved in national governance. They exercise state power through the National People’s Congress and local people’s congresses at different levels.”

The key reason the CPC could defeat the Kuomintang (the Nationalists) during the last Civil War was a democracy (Lu Chunlong, 2004). According to literature, the founding fathers and leaders of the CPC stressed the importance of democracy, especially Chen Duxiu, who was one of the famous democratic movement—”the May 4th Movement of 1919″—in modern Chinese history. Chairman Mao Zedong was also a feverish advocator of Chinese democratic politics.

In his masterpiece “On New Democracy,” he systematically illustrated the CPC‘s guiding principle on Chinese development (Unger and Chan, 1995). The CPC, led by Mao, founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, which was a milestone in the history of Chinese democracy. Mao Zedong explicitly declared that only through democracy could a government survive from being overthrown, and democracy could also bring about the Chinese national goal of “great rejuvenation”. After 1949, the CPC made tremendous exploration into promoting democracy in China, which led to several outstanding achievements. Examples include: abolishing feudalistic hierarchy and privilege, equalising gender differences, and enabling poor workers and farmers to be involved in national administration (Lu Chunlong, 2004).

Numerous Chinese diplomats who have served in Botswana have remarked that China also has a unique political consultation system and affiliated institutions, similar to Ntlo ya Dikgosi in Botswana, which gives citizens the platform to exercise democracy. One of the diplomats argued that most issues and conflicts of interests are resolved and suggestions accepted in such consultation forums, which also makes the implementation of the policies easier, a process inherent with democracy.

China believes its economic prosperity is a result of positive political reform gravitating towards democratic ideals. China has become the world’s second-largest economy and biggest trading nation. According to official Chinese data, 16,000 companies are created in China every day, and over 120 foreign enterprises are rushing to China, one of the biggest consumer markets and the top investment destination in the world. In addition, 1.4 billion people have basic medical insurance and old-age pension insurance.

Green and low-carbon living has become a new fashion, Chinese media has reported. The Chinese are driving 50% of the world’s new-energy vehicles on the most extensive expressways in the world. Every year, 10% of its population, which means almost 150 million Chinese, have visited other countries to open their eyes and contentedly returned to China. One billion Chinese netizens get connected with the world for information and engagement at the click of a mouse. Recently China reported that COVID-19 had been put under control in China, with 1.1 billion people fully vaccinated. The leadership in China submits that all these demonstrate that the Constitution fully protects the rights and freedoms of the Chinese.

Undoubtedly, the reforms that started in 1978 allowed the Chinese economy to boom exceptionally rapidly, which created a miracle in modern world economic history. Huntington (2002) observes that during the 30 years from 1978 to 2008, Chinese GDP grew from 364.5billion yuan (approximately 50.1 billion USD at 2010 exchange rate) to 30.067 trillion yuan (about 4.295 trillion USD). Additionally, the average annual growth rate exceeded 9%, and the GDP per capita also increased from 381 yuan (about 54.3 USD) to 22,600 yuan (approx.3,228.57 USD). The nation’s comprehensive strength also leapt forward to third place in the world.

But many Western scholars believed that China’s reform and opening-up policy only achieved great success concerning economic modernisation, with no significant progress in political democratisation (Ogden, 2002). Some even went so far as to claim the reason for the successful Chinese economic modernisation was precisely because China did not have any accompanying democratic reforms. As a matter of fact, Chinese modernisation is an integrated, multi-level social change process, which includes enormous economic progress and tremendous political and cultural improvement (Lu Chunlong, 2004).

Similarly, Ogden (2002) observed that the political impetus to economic prosperity was more significant in China’s reform than in many Western countries. Mao Zedong, who deeply understood the Chinese social and historical traditions, clearly stated: “Politics is the commander, the soul, and the bloodline of all economic tasks.” If there had been no political reform, China’s modernisation would have never succeeded.

In conclusion, it would have been impossible to attain later achievement in economic structural change without this political reform. Some Western scholars use their democratic standards, such as a multi-party system, universal suffrage, and checks and balances, to evaluate Chinese political development in the reform era and conclude that Chinese reform is more economical than political. However, China argues that this is an unnecessary bias and misunderstanding.

Concurrent with the fundamental change of economic structure, most Asian scholars argue that the Chinese political system also experiences a profound reform. They conclude that the impact of the political system on economic development is much more powerful in China than that in Western countries. “Without political structural reform, there would be no systematic economic change. This is a basic experience gained during the Chinese reform era” (Lu Chunlong, 2002). Deng Xiaoping, the designer and leader of Chinese reform, deeply understood this point.

He articulated: “If we fail to do that [political reform], we shall be unable to preserve the gains we have made in the economic reform.” “Without political reform, economic reform cannot succeed … So in the final analysis, the success of all our other reforms depends on the success of the political reform.” Yanjie (2002) agrees with the observation when he writes, “As it turned out, the process of Chinese reform and opening-up is an integral and comprehensive process of social changes, including economic, political, and cultural dimensions in Chinese society”. China holds on to the notorious adage that democracy is not Coca-Cola, which tastes the same worldwide. The world will be lifeless and dull if there is only one single model and one single civilisation.

Reference

Alexis de Tocqueville. (1966). Democracy in America. New York: Harper and Row, esp. Vol. I.

Bian Yanjie. (2002). “Chinese Social Stratification and Social Mobility”, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 28, pp. 91-116

Robert W. Jackman and Ross A. Miller. (1996) “A Renaissance of Political Culture?” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 632-659.

Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba. (1963). The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

James L. Gibson, Raymond M. Duch, and Kent L. Tedin. (1992). “Democratic Values and the Transformation of the Soviet Union”, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 54, No. 2, pp. 329-371.

Jonathan Unger and Anita Chan. (1995). “China, Corporatism, and the East Asian Model”, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, Vol. 33, pp. 29-53.

Martin King Whyte. (1995). “The Changing Role of Workers”, in Merle Goldman and Roderick MacFarquhar (eds.), The Paradox of China’s Post-Mao Reforms, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, pp. 173-196.

Samuel P. Huntington. (2002). “Democracy’s Third Wave”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 2, 1992, pp. 12-35;

Suzanne Ogden. (2002). Inklings of Democracy in China, Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.

Robert Putnam. (1993). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lee Ching Kwan. (2000). “Pathways of Labor Insurgency”, in Elizabeth J. Perry and Mark Selden (eds.), Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance, London, Routledge, pp. 41-61.

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.

The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.

This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.

Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.

The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).

Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.

Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors.
Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.

Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.

In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.

The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.

The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.

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