March 21, 2006


Asia's young democracies are showing their age (Paul Wiseman, 3/20/06, USA TODAY)

Across East Asia, young democracies are struggling with street demonstrations, impeachment drives, autocratic and erratic elected leaders and political battles that have nothing to do with the challenges of governing complex, changing societies.

"I am frankly worried" about the fragility of democracy in the region, [Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution] says. Consider:

•The Philippines continues to struggle with the legacy of two People Power revolutions — one that overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos and established democracy in 1986 and one that ousted Estrada in 2001 and replaced him with his technocratic vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Now Arroyo, facing allegations of corruption and electoral fraud, is fending off calls for her resignation. She declared a weeklong state of emergency Feb. 24, charging that her opponents in the military and on the far left were planning a coup.

•In Taiwan, which emerged from martial law in 1987 and held its first free presidential election in 1996, opposition parties want second-term President Chen Shui-bian impeached. About 20,000 people turned out Sunday in Taipei to challenge his policies and legitimacy.

The president's party suffered big losses in local elections in December. He has responded by trying to rally his base in the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Most recently, he closed a government office dedicated to working toward eventual reunion with China — a move that risked conflict with China and defied warnings from the United States. Chen also has played up divisions between "mainlanders" who fled across the Taiwan Strait after communists took over China in 1949 and "native" Taiwanese, who support his party. "The deep, polarizing division over national identity ... has retarded the process of democratic maturation in Taiwan," Diamond says.

•South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae Chan resigned last week after coming under fire for playing golf during a national railway strike. The episode blew up into a scandal when it was revealed that Lee's golf partners included a man with a criminal record. Even so, "the way he was shot down did not involve a substantive issue," says Byung Kook Kim, director of the East Asia Institute, a Seoul think tank.

The incident was typical for the region, where weak and immature political parties focus on exposing opponents' supposed ethical lapses instead of on policy.

Following the lead of our own immature Democratic Party?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 21, 2006 7:16 AM
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