[Viewpoint] At the crossroad of integration and division

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[Viewpoint] At the crossroad of integration and division

While the Arab world has become the latest to be swept up by the huge wave of democratization, many matured democratic societies in contrast are teetering on the brink of dysfunction and chaos. Political pundits say modern democratic politics have evolved by three revolutionary waves. Western-style form of government and legislative resulted from the first wave of American Independence and French Revolution.

The second wave was brought about by the Second World War and defeat of fascist and imperialistic countries, replacing dictatorship with democracy in Germany, Italy, Japan and colonized sectors. The third wave knocked out dictatorship in Spain (1975), Portugal, Greece and several despots in South America to have domino effect to as far as South Korea where people power revolution in June 1987 exacted the first direct presidential election.

Due largely to the commonness of liberal democracy and political ideal in the wake of the democratic evolutions, economies around the world in the 21st century became globalized, or integrated. The democracy should now be in its heyday, but today’s world events present it in the opposite form - at conflict and crisis. The United States - the world’s first democratic state - has recently witnessed a deadly rampage against a congresswoman stemming from a bitter bipartisan divide. Parliamentary democracies in Britain and other European corners are also grappling with everyday public protests.

Japan, one of the first to embrace representative democracy in Asia, has also been mired in deep political insecurity. Yasuhiro Nakosone, former prime minister and the longest-serving and living politician in post-war Japan, warned in recent book that the Japanese government must come up with sense of vision in order to avoid catastrophic end.

The central-right Italian government of Silvio Berlisconi remains in power despite series of controversy and sex scandal just because weak central-left opposition groups fail to present themselves as competent rival in leadership and the public still bear fear over leftist forces who manifested themselves in violent protests during the G-8 summit conference in 2001.

Spain, Portugal, and Greece that chose democracy over autocracy in late 1970s and early 1980s are now blamed for jeopardizing the global economy with debt crisis. Fiscal demise brought down these members of the European Union from grace in terms of political and economic stature due partly to reckless competition among politicians to meet popular demands in the fever of democratization. South Korea - one of their group peers in third democratization wave - should learn a lesson from them in order not to follow their wrong footsteps.

Whether they are frontrunners or latecomers, democratic states today have lost direction in the abyss of instability and inefficiency. Coincidentally, civilian power are brewing and threatening long-held dictatorship and monopoly in power in the Arab and Middle East societies. Anti-government popular protests in Tunisia and Yemen have spread to Egypt, portending the forming of the fourth wave in democratization.

China has so far been successful in its experiment of state-controlled market system to emerge as the world’s second largest economy. But we and the world are closely watching whether the simmering new wave of democratization in some form or another could affect China’s future path.

Politics in conflict instead of unity and governance led by populism and recklessness instead of responsibility and modesty have culminated into today’s perils and crisis in most democratic states. In Germany, which so far has maintained political and economic stability, the ruling and opposition parties endeavor to work together instead of clashing.

Matured democratic states like the United States and the relatively latecomers that joined the democratic bandwagon in the late 20th century are now at the crossroad of choosing between integration and division. They must rebuild their democratic frameworks through broad reform in political system, culture, and leadership in order to remain in the right track.

South Korea should move beyond congratulating itself in its achievements in democratization, industrialization, and advance and muster new public energy in order to progress further in the path of unity.

The writer is a former prime minister and advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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