In a democracy, work is never done

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In a democracy, work is never done

Protesters have returned to Tahrir Square in Cairo and they are now denouncing the president elected after the pro-democracy revolution ousted Hosni Mubarak in the spring of 2011. Egyptians had rejoiced in the freedoms brought by the Arab Spring. But spring never lasts forever. Democracy doesn’t happen overnight.

Korea’s presidential election is exactly a week away. In but seven days, we will know who will become the next president. One thing is certain. No matter who wins the election, Koreans will not have to worry about the kind of chaos and instability occurring in Egypt. Even if the candidate you support doesn’t win, protesters are not going to pour into the streets. You will be able to go back to your daily routine.

We have to be thankful that we enjoy such calm. Korea has come very far. Nevertheless, we tend to get somewhat stressed about politics as the election approaches. Extremists say a certain candidate will bring chaos and turn the country in a backward direction, and we can get rattled by such claims.

The truth is it’s those people with extreme arguments who are dangerous. They are trying to stimulate fear and uncertainty in order to take power. Democracy is a system where we are supposed to be able to trust the side we don’t actually vote for.

Memoirs of former American presidents have one thing in common. Less than three months after they enter the White House, they realize the president doesn’t have the power to do everything he wishes. Korean presidents are not much different. The candidates are now competing in their pledges of economic democratization and welfare. Big corporations have become targets for their animus.

However, no matter how much the president wants to change the economy, he can’t do a lot. More than 80 percent of the Korean economy relies on trade with other countries, and the economy is influenced by international markets. Korea is a country that is more influenced by the world and its mercantile system, not by its president.

The National Assembly, the media, the industries and labor unions form the domestic part of that system. If the system is solid, the country does not shake no matter who becomes the president. Democracy is gradual and moderate by nature. Extreme voices do not suit the spirit of democracy.

Democracy is all about choice. In totalitarian rule, citizens cannot choose their leader. They are ruled. In a democracy, citizens choose the leader according to their will, and the value of each individual is respected. Let’s say two candidates have earned the same number of votes, and only one vote remains to be counted. That one vote decides the administration, whether that voter is poor or rich, intelligent or uneducated, old or young.

The country follows the choice of that person without objection. In democracy, therefore, each voter is not one tenth of a millionth or one hundredth of a millionth of power. Each voter is the country. Each citizen represents us all. Isn’t it truly thrilling?

With that choice comes responsibility. As we make a choice according to our free will, we are accountable for our choices. So in a democracy, citizens are required to have a sense of accountability. We cannot blame the politicians for failures. We are responsible for also allowing ourselves to be mislead.

Democracy is a solemn system. When you make a choice, you should not just consider your own tastes, emotions or preferences. You have to make a decision after thinking about all the other individuals. Civil responsibility comes from our consideration for the community.

Then what should be the standards for our choice? We must keep in mind the future. A nation does not only exist in the present. Its existence begins in the past and continues into the future. We may value the present only. But sometimes we need to make a sacrifice today to forge a more desirable future. We need to think about the future of our children and their children. The biggest problem with populism is that it sacrifices the future for the present.

We need to find a leader with optimism. The drive for growth comes from positive thinking, not negative energy. It was a positive spirit that brought this country so far. We need critical thinking, for sure. But a country ruled by sarcastic and negative spirits will go backward. We need to judge which candidate has a more positive perspective on the future.

History is a river. If a rock stands in the middle of the river, the flow may be halted. But the water will soon go around the rock. The history of Korea has begun from the rockiest valley and is headed toward the ocean wide.

Industrial leaders and the Korean wave illustrate how powerful the flow is. If voters are blinded by cynical rhetoric and make a mistake in electing the leader, the flow might be disrupted, but it can never stop it. In the long run, a democracy has nothing to worry about.

* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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