[Viewpoint] The balance of democracyThe Grand National Party has made changes to its party platform and shifted the focus to welfare benefits and “economic democratization.” If you look at the new platform on its own, it looks more like it came from a liberal party than a conservative one. Such a transformation may have been a prudent response to the demands of the voters. A party can only survive by accommodating changes in the political environment.
But how will this affect the nation as a whole?
Korea is considered an exceptional case of a country attaining both economic growth and political democratization. The Philippines won back its democracy shortly before Korea did, but its economy remains underdeveloped. Malaysia and Singapore have accomplished economic development similar to Korea’s, but have yet to embrace truly democratic systems. Korea is the only country that has achieved the so-called modern developed state model.
Who deserves credit for such an accomplishment? Those who value economic development would praise Park Chung Hee and his growth-driven policy. Those who emphasize democracy would celebrate those who fought for freedom. Nevertheless, Korea’s unique success is the achievement of both objectives, and therefore, both groups can take credit.
Competition between economic development and democratization coincides with the division between conservatives and liberals in developed countries. Those who championed economic growth evolved into the conservatives, while the democratization group became the liberals. Generally, once democratization is attained, the focus shifts to philosophical and economic issues. The conservatives value personal liberty and the market economy while the liberals stress overall equality in society and issues like welfare for the disadvantaged.
Democracy is a system for the masses, so the liberals may have an advantage. However, political reality is not so simple. The Roh Moo-hyun administration was clearly a liberal government, but the citizens turned their back on it and the Lee Myung-bak Administration came into power, winning the election by five million votes, the largest margin ever. While the Roh administration pursued equality, the economy stalled and the livelihoods of the average person became more difficult.
A liberal administration tends to lean toward populism, equality and ignoring economic growth, while a conservative one may get obsessed with growth and let the disparity between the rich and the poor grow. Democracy is the mechanism that controls these character flaws. The citizens decide which direction the community wants to go and vote accordingly, which leads to administration changes. The liberal and the conservatives alternate, and it is not so important which side takes power at a given moment. In the bigger picture, a nation keeps its balance between the two sides with their different values.
However, politicians have a different agenda. They have the short-term goal of getting into power during their career. Therefore, it is a short-sighted move for the Grand National Party to shift to a liberal direction. If the conservative party changes its policy just because welfare happens to be the trend at a certain moment, who will advocate growth when that advocacy is needed? The Grand National Party would not only let the present slip but lose the future as well. The liberals may have the upper hand now because of the calls for equality, but when the opposite waves come in, the tide will turn to those who pursue true conservatism.
Democracy is an auto-control device that makes a society a healthier place. It is hard for an individual to control himself when he’s on a roll, and the same goes for companies and the political parties. The Grand National Party could have saved itself from its crisis if it had controlled itself. It covered its ears, kept playing politics as usual and ended up losing the public’s support. The administration’s failure to control its people led to a series of corruption scandals. The ruling party cannot blame the Blue House alone, since democracy is a system of accountability.
Changing the name of the party does not exempt it from responsibilities. If the conglomerates had the virtue of moderation, they wouldn’t invade the territory of small businesses. Democracy is the apparatus that keeps a balance when each part of the society fails to control itself. A political party may lose power in an election, and conglomerates are restricted by the law created by the National Assembly.
Those with stronger senses of ideology are more likely to adhere to power. They are anxious that losing power would be disastrous because the wrong ideology would gain power.
Politicians who received benefits from the administration are largely interested in winning the election for selfish reasons.
Aside from the pro-Pyongyang leftists who deny the Republic of Korea, the race for power is open to anyone. This is the essence of the democracy we have built. The presidential election is this year, and the citizens have less than 11 months to think about who the country needs most at this moment.
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk