Sat, Jan 27, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Chen hails democracy at forum

ACHIEVEMENTS Participants at a democratic forum in Taipei, including five former presidents, discussed the travails and rewards of their countries' paths to democracy

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

From left to right, former Polish president Lech Walesa, former South Korean president Kim Young-sam, President Chen Shui-bian, former El Salvadorean president Francisco Flores, former Mongolian president Punsalmuagiyn Ochirbat and former South African president F.W. de Klerk, yesterday wave to participants at a conference on emerging democracies.

PHOTO: SUNG CHIH-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Despite the difficult road to democracy, Taiwan cannot return to authoritarianism, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday.

Addressing the morning session of an international roundtable forum on difficulties encountered by new democracies, Chen said that only by vigorously pursuing democratic principles can the problems caused during the democratization process be resolved.

"Going back down the old road is not the answer," he said. "History has told us that democratic development is not an easy road nor can the democratic system be transplanted in full from one country to another."

Every young democracy has its own problems, and nobody has the correct answer nor the cure-all, but they can share their experiences, he said.

Yesterday's discussion focused on transitional justice and choice of a constitutional system.

Five former presidents attended the event organized by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

They were Kim Young-sam of South Korea, Francisco Guillermo Flores of El Salvador, Lech Walesa of Poland, Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat of Mongolia and F. W. de Klerk of South Africa.

Chen said that since the 1970s, more than 30 countries, including Taiwan and the five countries represented at the event, have experienced the transformation to democracy.

While the democratization of advanced democracies was a gradual process, it was sudden change for many emerging democracies, he said.

The advent of democracy, he said, was like the fall of the Berlin Wall, which collapsed overnight.

The sudden emergence of democracy resulted in conflict and chaos, allowing old forces to regain power and resulting in public disillusionment, Chen said, adding that this was a dilemma commonly confronting new democracies.

Former presidents Kim and Flores emphasized the importance of removing military influence on politics.

Kim, for one, moved to remove all military officials from government posts during his tenure.

Kim added that the public has the right to choose the form of government.

Walesa, meanwhile, called for a "United States of Europe" to deepen regional integration.

Walesa also predicted a future "United States of Asia" and called for solidarity to prevent the installation of unjust regimes and enhance global security.

De Klerk, however, said that the notion of a "United States of Europe" was "a pie in the sky" because he believed that too much infringement on national sovereignty from a top central power was bound to create a backlash.

He said he personally favored regionalization, where all countries -- regardless of their size -- enjoy joint decision-making and respect basic sovereignty.

Describing democracy as "a fragile plant that requires special attention particularly in the first year of its growth," de Klerk shared his country's successful experience in cross-party negotiations.

He said the negotiations were conducted without any preconditions, all political parties were invited and all sides were prepared to make concessions. They also succeeded in creating a framework to cultivate their cultural diversity.

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