Looking for Democratic Harbingers

(August 20) – Citizens of Afghanistan and the global community have held their collective breaths over the safety and outcome of this week’s elections in Afghanistan. Enthusiasm at the polls provides a wonderful reminder of the power of the vote, with the BBC broadcasting many excited voices. The mobilization of Afghans in the electoral process flies in the face of recent challenges to democracy elsewhere, to include the Burmese military regime’s accelerated marginalization of Aung San Suu Kyi and Kyrgyzstan’s rigged elections – spared much condemnation given the value its base in the war against terrorism.This week saw the passing of former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, a lion of new Asian democracies. Though the proliferation of tributes has focused on his leadership in moving South Korea from an authoritarian past and his peace efforts with North Korea—for which he received the Nobel Prize—it is important to remember his debate in Foreign Affairs in 1990 with Singapore strongman Lee Kwan Yu. Kim essentially argued that economic modernization and democratic progress could not be isolated from one another, that they were two faces of a coin, two wheels of a cart. Kim’s passing followed that of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who led the wildly successful People Power movement of the 1980s, which sent the corrupt Marcos regime into exile.With progress at the Afghan ballot box, rollback in Burma and Kyrgyzstan, and passing of two of Asian democracy’s greats, it is important to look for new successes as a confirmation of the value of the participatory process and as tribute to the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi, Kim Dae Jung, and Cory Aquino.The secret success of the summer of 2009 lays far to the North, in a small nation with a vast expanse, Mongolia. May elections saw the staggering voter turnout that has marked each of Mongolia’s elections since its transition to democracy almost two decades ago. In mid-June, newly elected President Ts. Elbegdorj was sworn into office, the first President to hail from the band of activists that led Mongolia’s bloodless transition to democracy. In taking the reins from a president associated with the Mongolia People’s Revolutionary Party, which had controlled all but four years of the two decade transition period, Elbegdorj boldly promised to stamp out corruption in his inaugural address. He promised a more participatory society marked by openness and equal access. And he promised stronger contributions to regional and global peace and security.Mongolia’s Elbegdorj arrives in New York for late September’s UN opening and leaders’ summit on climate change. It is important for his international partners to welcome him as the latest of Asia’s new democracy leaders and to applaud Mongolia for its stand as a harbinger for democracy in the region. Despite challenges of consolidation, Mongolia’s institutions are developing, and Mongolia stands on firm ground relative to the autocratic Stans to its west, North Korea to its east, China to its south and Russia to its north. President Elbegdorj’s words about the importance of transparency and good governance need to be amplified regionally and globally. And his thoughts about climate change and sustainable resource development need be weighed, especially given Mongolia’s rich resource base, its lifeblood of eco-tourism, and the very evident scarring wrought by climate change and with challenges and opportunities associated with mining interests there. Finally, his commitment to regional peace building, by his offer to host dialogue on North Korea, is significant and a tribute to his democratic forebear Kim Dae Jung. Mongolia is able to provide a fitting venue given its good relations with both North Korea and South Korea and given its example as a nuclear weapons free-zone. North Korea sent a high level delegation to Ulaanbaatar in the wake of the new President’s inauguration to discuss cooperation.In a world wrought by non-proliferation concerns and feeling its way out of a global economic meltdown, it is sometimes important to remember the small victories. To the North, in distant Mongolia, stands a new democratic leader.

Author of this article is Dr. Stephen Noerper and he is one of the United States’ premier Asia analysts and a dynamic leader in the corporate and educational sectors. He provides advice and support in enhancing international standing, has taught and published widely, and was awarded the Mongolian State Friendship Medal in 2007. Contact steve.noerper@gmail.com



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