Blogs > Cliopatria > Healthy Asian Democracies in Action

May 15, 2004 2:49 am

Healthy Asian Democracies in Action

I love democracy. I love open debate and quiet compromise. I love slow maturing growth and the engagement of leaders with the public. I love voting and how it makes pollsters and pundits writhe in agony. I love winning by persuasion and I don't mind losing if people really listened and made a reasonably rational decision. I love how different democracies function differently, and how democracies with similar systems can still function differently. I particularly love the way democracies so often confound our expectations, and often do much better than their non-democratic alternatives or even their democratic critics. It's the greatest show on earth and it's the only decent way of organizing human societies. OK, it's not perfect, but I'm not giving up on it, because it's so much more fun and fair than any of the alternatives.

And I'm particularly fond of Asian democracies. The assumption in most of the world for most of modern history has been that Asia, that changeless despotic oriental culture, would never be able to sustain democratic systems. But it does! Lots of them. Under less than ideal circumstances, and often dramatic external pressures, hundreds of millions of Asians live in and vote in democracies. Now, two of them have worked through serious and surprising turns.

South Korea's president, impeached two months ago for campaign violations, has been returned to power by the South Korean Constitutional Court. In typically Asian fashion, he has apologized, and in atypical fashion, Korean newspapers have called for him to continue to rule firmly but humbly. For two months, South Korea has been ruled by a caretaker government, as its constitution requires, and the Constitutional Court reviewed the impeachment, as the constitution requires, and South Korea even had an election without serious violence or irregularities. That's my definition of a mature, healthy democracy.

India, the world's largest democracy, had an election, too, producing a rather surprising change in government [Thanks, Anne, for the collection of links!]. Lots of time and energy will go into trying to explain this turn of events, but for now I'm just basking in the glow of a peaceful transition from a party which I consider fascist and dangerous to one which seems to actually believe in ruling in the name of an entire country and benefiting people with growth instead of atavistic pride.

I love democracy.

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Derek Charles Catsam - 5/15/2004

Jonathan --
Thanks for this. Like Africa, Asia sometimes gets lost. I wish I knew it better, to be sure, but I am happy to see true democracy thriving in some of the most important countries there. i do see many of the same arguments that you refute about Asia lingering in Africa and also in the Middle East. I imagine you and I draw dramatically different conclusions about the meaning of this for the Middle east, but it may well be instructive.

Oscar Chamberlain - 5/15/2004

It's a pleasure to see democratic ideals working well. And a reminder in these odd times that, while the US is extremely important in the workings of the world, it is far from the only source of new progress.

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