[OUTLOOK]Civic groups a threat to democracy

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[OUTLOOK]Civic groups a threat to democracy

As in the old saying, “Make haste slowly,” people should take time to arrange their thoughts no matter how uneasy society is. The time has come for the nation to calm down after the local elections, the 2006 World Cup and the missile test-firings by North Korea and also the infuriated public sentiment because of the recent rain storms.
Having recently selected new leaders and staff members, the time has also come for political parties to arrange their affairs in preparation for the National Assembly’s regular session in September and, in the longer view, the presidential election next year.
But I honestly admit that we do not have the luxury of forgetting about the internal and external crises that face Korea ― not even for a single second.
Although the outside world views Korea as a model country that has successfully accomplished both industrialization and democracy, one cannot deny that the nation is facing a dark shadow internally.
In other words, the confidence in democracy and the market economy among the people seems to be rapidly dissipating.
First of all, distrust of the National Assembly’s representative make-up, the core of democratic politics, is becoming widespread.
The large increase in the number of self-proclaimed “pan-national groups” that claim to better represent the public sentiment than the National Assembly and local council members who were appointed through free elections, including the president himself, is most certainly a strong challenge to the established democratic politics.
The active participation of civilian organizations that pursue specific goals and interests is one base of democracy. But if their methods of expressing their opinions turn illegal, then regardless of the appropriateness of their opinions, democracy can’t help but face a crisis.
Second, if the trend of denying the justice of an existing legal system on the basis of one’s personal religious faith or ideological belief continues, the fundamental order in which democracy has its roots will soon become unstable and the people’s basic rights may quickly be threatened.
We have made many sacrifices in the past to protect our freedom from dictatorship, which neglected the democratic constitution and used the endowed political power according to its will.
But if the current self-complacency that disregards law and order continues in a society that guarantees freedom of the press and assembly, that attitude will put cracks in the belief that the people now have about the government’s ability to maintain a basic level of order. Democracy will eventually undergo a harsh ordeal.
There are also many questions and objections being raised today regarding the positive effects of democracy and the market economy. The continued economic depression and the difficulties in everyday life are raising questions as to whether democracy can lead to economic prosperity.
The point made by a Chung-Ang University professor, Jaung Hoon, is rather persuasive.
According to Mr. Jaung, the rights that represent the diverse and unconditional demands of the people have surpassed the country’s ability to develop efficiently the economy during the road to democracy over the past 10 years, and this dangerous imbalance has acted as an obstacle to Korea’s economic development.
During this period of difficult internal affairs, North Korea’s missile launches have made relations between South and North Korea as well as the geopolitical situation, involving Russia, China, Japan and the United States, much more difficult and complicated.
There is no need to repeat the limits and the threat the North Korean regime poses.
What is there to expect from a nation whose anachronistic people say that the power of their leader corresponds to not only the security of their system but their fate, repeatedly, without any reflections?
The problem lies in the obscurity of the nation’s leadership and the national sentiment regarding the strategic moves we can make on the diplomatic stage among the influence of our four powerful neighboring countries.
Under the current internal and external situations, the irresponsibility of the political sector must no longer be tolerated. Politicians are looking only at the short term and their positioning for the next election.
They must realize that they have a duty to state their positions clearly to the people regarding not only key domestic issues like democracy and the market economy, the representation and effectiveness of the current system and maintaining law and order, but also on relations with North Korea, the United States and other members of the international community.
That is why we hope our political leaders spend this summer completing the difficult homework they went home with rather than enjoying a vacation.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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