[Outlook]Don’t forget democracy

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[Outlook]Don’t forget democracy

The president-elect has made reviving the economy one of the highest priorities for the new administration.
This is very natural and understandable, considering that a majority of people voted for him in an election one month ago, expecting him to do just this.
But the task of reviving politics is no less important than reviving the economy, so it should not be overlooked. If the community base that backs democratic politics is shaken, a revitalized economy alone cannot guarantee the country’s development.
These days, our society is divided, rather than being integrated, and shows symptoms of a fissure rather than fusion. Korea is proud that it has successfully achieved industrialization and democratization, but it still has a long way to go in terms of integrating society, so we can’t delay searching out the reasons and resolving the problem.
If politics is in trouble even though the economy is thriving, the future of the country becomes uncertain and people’s livelihoods also become insecure. Therefore, building a vital democracy, a task that hasn’t been fully accomplished yet, must be included at the top of the agenda, along with reviving the economy.
We must try to unite people while in pursuit of our goal of building a democratic community that includes multiple factors. Korean society abides by the principle of democracy, which means it does not require standardization but accepts pluralism in many fields such as politics, economy, culture and regional backgrounds.
A democratic community that embraces pluralism can mature only when all people, groups, regions and classes have fair and equal chances to take part in politics, so a fair distribution of wealth to prevent or remedy the extreme gaps between the rich and the poor, which threatens the unity of our community, is an important principle for governing the country.
But looking back into Korea’s past, particularly the last 10 years, it is regrettable that other issues were given top priority on the national agenda, creating division and chaos among the people.
The forces that accomplished democratization made huge sacrifices before finally taking a central role in governing the country. They should have put priority on establishing a healthy and strong democratic pluralistic community and governing it successfully.
People from every rung of the social and economic ladder expected to take part in governing the country and to benefit from economic and social development.
However, the former administration and the incumbent administration did not complete the task of democratization. Instead, they prioritized improving South-North Korean relations, asserting that North Koreans and South Koreans are all of the same nationality and putting all their energy into this goal.
They also called themselves the forces for peace and reunification, defining a majority of the people and political rivals as opponents of peace and reunification. As a result, the administrations created sharp divisions and failed to give everyone a fair chance to take part in politics and improve the people’s lives, particularly those who have low incomes.
In short, it is hard for the two administrations to avoid the judgement that they created divisions among people instead of uniting them.
The new administration must therefore put its efforts into building a healthy, democratic society that embraces pluralism. That is, it must faithfully realize the politics of integration in order to build up the centripetal power in our society.
With the legislative elections nearing, there is a big risk that people will again be divided instead of united because of competition during the campaigns.
But the new administration is determined to look ahead five years and more, so it must be wise and courageous as it produces and polishes a political vision that will contribute to enhancing the basis for a democratic community.
The new administration must try to establish institutions and customs that accommodate fair allocation of political power and the benefits of economic growth. To do so, it must induce a consensus among the people to re-establish ethics in the community. A democratic community cannot exist unless its citizens make certain promises and do their duty by carrying them out. Fair participation in politics and realizing economic justice can be achieved only in a community where citizens take responsibility for keeping their promises.
A political culture that emphasizes citizens’ duties and responsibilities seems to have been forgotten in our society. Finding ways to revive this culture is the urgent task that Korea faces.

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

by Lee Hong-koo
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