The call of the candlelight

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The call of the candlelight

History shows us that revolution demands blood. But we have not shed any blood in defending our Constitution and are willfully committed to the historical experiment of building a new civilian democracy through peaceful revolutionary reforms.

Democracy has come under challenge around the world. The democracy movement by Arab societies was short-lived, and mature democratic societies suffer political unrest. The British stunned the world by voting to leave the European Union and Americans did so by selecting the unconventional candidate Donald J. Trump to be president, underscoring the unsettling flaws and disorder even in the most advanced democratic societies.

The wave of globalization and information technology in the wake of the Cold War brought not just riches, but deepened disparities among countries and social classes, augmented anxieties of the greater populace to the boiling point and drove them to take things into their own hands.

We have not been an exception. The power abuse scandal involving the president has been the tipping point for the candlelight vigil protests, but what the millions of burning lights really represent is the public outrage at the impotence of the government and legislative system that condoned the spread and deepening of the sickness from polarization in our society.

A democratic republic can be stable on the foundation of social contracts among civilians. Social contracts are the norms shared by the people and should be based on the common faith in fairness and belief that the promises would be upheld. The public has become enraged because the trust between the people and the president has been shattered. When the public fury is transformed into civilian power to reform the nation, it could bring about the unexpected result of maturing civilian political culture.

We have come to self-awareness that Korea’s civil society in various areas has been maturing to the point of earning respect from the global society through achievements like Hallyu’s contribution to world culture in the 21st century. The unique civilian movement leading politics has played out on the stage of Gwanghwamun in downtown Seoul. Liberal cultural assertiveness and expression have brought together millions of men, women and children to the streets, and their candles lit up the path of peaceful revolution. The evolving civilian-led culture has finally cleared the bottleneck that had kept Korean politics in a stalemate for the last seven decades
The great experiment in Korean-style democracy has, in actual fact, only just begun. We must tend to the greater task of turning the momentum built by millions of civilians over the last month and a half to implement reforms in the national system. The test is to satisfy civilian demands for democracy expressed through peaceful means — and not in the form of revolts against authoritarian regimes in the past — in an equally orderly and constitutional process.

We must remind ourselves that this is our own experiment and battle to build and defend our civilian democracy based on openness and peace for universal prosperity instead of following the popular movement of nationalism or dogma of global powers. It should be our legacy rooted in the peaceful aspirations of our independent movement ancestors.

The more turbulent the times are, the calmer we must become to abide by the rules of democracy. We must be guided by the rule of democracy. The pursuit of a single goal in a democratic community of diverse interests and values of people could push us wayward towards a dictatorship or amateurish heroism.

Both the left and the right have fallen into that trap over the last century. A healthy democratic society can only be realized through commitments to majority rule and the guarantee of minority rights.

Once the impeachment process ends, politics will go straight to election mode. It will be our real test of what kind of civilian democracy we want for ourselves. We have come to the re-enlightenment on the significance of each and every civilian’s role in a democracy. The president and the lawmakers are elected through our votes. The people will be closely watching what the National Assembly’s special committee on constitutional amendment will do as much as what kind of ruling the Constitutional Court will deliver on the impeachment motion.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 17, Page 31

*The author, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Hong-koo

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