The democratization of one country can ignite a wave of democracy in the region, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday, stressing Taiwan has the obligation to share its democratization experience with the world's emerging democracies.
Chen made the remarks at the first annual Global Forum for New Democracies held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Office and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy in Taipei.
The forum was attended by five former heads of states from four continents and addressed the challenges and achievements of emerging democracies.
Chen said democratization was a road riddled with setbacks and successes, citing the recent political upheavals in Pakistan, Thailand and Kenya.
However, he said, in contrast to the chaos in other young democracies, Taiwan and South Korea have managed to hold major elections without violence, despite the high levels of controversy surrounding the elections.
He accused the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) of stifling transitional justice by repeatedly blocking legislation concerning retrieving its stolen party assets, believed to be worth more than NT$600 billion (US$18.6 billion).
The president called for full disclosure of state-sanctioned violence and other wrongs that occurred during the KMT regime. Although telling the truth can damage one's image, it is a crucial factor in achieving forgiveness and reconciliation, he said.
Francisco Perez, who was president of El Salvador from 1999 to 2004, said democracy was only as strong as its weakest link.
Without prosperity and security, he said, the people who once fought for democracy will revert to supporting the institution's greatest enemy -- populism.
Federick Willhem de Klerk, who was president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 and whose work in ending apartheid won him a Nobel Peace Prize, said a true democracy must be equipped with an independent judiciary, a clear balance of powers between the legislature and the executive branches and an objective media.
Many former leaders shared the view that an unbiased media is a key factor in promoting and maintaining democracy.
Former Polish president Lech Walesa, another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is making his 11th visit to Taiwan, said any democratic government must establish a legal framework that ensures civil rights, while the public must learn what their rights are.
However, he said, the expansion of democratic values in a country also depends on the "thickness of people's checkbooks."
Kim Yong-sam, president of South Korea from 1993 to 1998, told the forum that a true democratic leader is someone who humbly follows public will without seeking to exploit the public.
He said political parties must represent the concerns and needs of the public.
Emil Constantinescu, president of Romania from 1996 to 2000, said an advanced democratic society is characterized by "political complexity, political inclusion, a functional market and a wide dispersion of richness, education, power and authority."
He said that citizens in a democratic country should have access to organizations that support and encourage diversity.
Former Bulgarian president Zhelyu Zhelev had to cancel his appearance because of inclement weather at Sofia Airport. Former Mexican president Vincente Fox canceled his attendance at the request of his government, as Mexico is engaged in talks with Beijing on stopping shoe dumping.