Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2001
Volume 12
Issue 2
Page Numbers 182-87
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At an award ceremony in Oslo on 10 December 2000, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize for Peace to South Korean president Kim Dae Jung “for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” The following are excerpts from his acceptance address:

Distinguished guests, I believe that democracy is the absolute value that makes for human dignity, as well as the only road to sustained economic development and social justice. Without democracy, the market economy cannot blossom, and without market economics, economic competitiveness and growth cannot be achieved.

A national economy lacking a democratic foundation is a castle built on sand. Therefore, as president of the Republic of Korea, I have made the parallel development of democracy and market economics, supplemented with a system of productive welfare, the basic mission of my government. To achieve the mission, during the past two-and-a-half years, we have taken steps to actively guarantee the democratic rights of our citizens. We have also been steadfast in implementing bold reforms in the financial, corporate, public and labor sectors. Furthermore, the efforts to promote productive welfare, focusing on human resources development for all citizens, including the low-income classes, have made much headway. . . .

Allow me to say a few words on a personal note. Five times I faced near death at the hands of dictators, six years I spent in prison, and forty years I lived under house arrest or in exile and under constant surveillance. I could not have endured the hardship without the support of my people and the encouragement of fellow democrats around the world. The strength also came from deep personal beliefs.

I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always [End Page 182] with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me, and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.

Another faith is my belief in the justice of history. In 1980, I was sentenced to death by the military regime. For six months in prison, I awaited the execution day. Often, I shuddered with fear of death. But I would find calm in the fact of history that justice ultimately prevails. I was then, and am still, an avid reader of history. And I knew that in all ages, in all places, he who lives a righteous life dedicated to his people and humanity may not be victorious, may meet a gruesome end in his lifetime, but will be triumphant and honored in history; he who wins by injustice may dominate the present day, but history will always judge him to be a shameful loser. There can be no exception.


In a presidential runoff on 28 December 2000, opposition candidate John Kufour of the New Patriotic Party defeated John Atta Mills of the ruling National Democratic Congress, marking Ghana’s first peaceful transfer of power since the country’s independence in 1957. (See the article by E. Gyimah-Boadi on pp. 103-17 of this issue.) The following are excerpts from Kufour’s inaugural address, delivered in Accra’s Independence Square on 1 January 2001:

One hour ago, I took a solemn oath before parliament to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of Ghana. I swore that I now dedicate myself to the service and well-being of the people of Ghana to do right to all. Please join me in giving thanks to the Almighty for bringing us to this new beginning for our country. We demonstrate today our maturity and our cohesion as a nation by the smooth transfer of power from a democratically elected government to another. This is the first time this has happened in our 43 years of existence. It is an achievement of which we can all be justifiably proud, and which we can happily celebrate. But we cannot rest there. What we can, and must do, is to try and utilize the advantages that come from this historic achievement.

The spontaneous joy and feeling of goodwill that is in the country since 28 December 2000 should not be allowed to disappear without translating it into tangible improvements in the lives of the mass of our people. We have work to do and that starts today. Our greatest enemy is [End Page 183] poverty. And the battle against poverty starts with reconciling our people and forging ahead in unity. We have gone through [hard] times and should not in any way downplay or brush aside the wrongs that have been suffered. I do not ask that we forget, indeed we dare not forget, but I do plead that we try to forgive. That way, we can concentrate our energies on the big battle of bringing prosperity to our nation. It is not beyond our capabilities. . . .

There will be, under this administration, zero tolerance of corruption and I make a solemn pledge to you, my compatriots and fellow citizens, that I shall set a personal example. . . .

Multiparty democracy is here to stay in our country. There is room for differences of opinion, our political opponents have their honored roles to play, and I urge all of us to extend the same tolerance to each other that we want for ourselves.


On January 20, Philippine vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as president after the country’s Supreme Court ousted President Joseph Estrada. (For more details, see the article by Carl Landé on pp. 88-102 of this issue.) Excerpts from Arroyo’s inaugural address appear below:

In all humility, I accept the privilege and responsibility to act as president of the republic. I do so with both trepidation and a sense of awe. Trepidation, because it is now, as the good book says, “A time to heal and a time to build.” The task is formidable, and so I pray that we will all be one, one in our priorities, one in our values and commitments. . . . People power and the “oneness” of will and vision have made a new beginning possible. . . .

The first of my core beliefs pertains to the elimination of poverty. This is our unfinished business from the past. It dates back to the creation of our republic, whose seeds were sown in the revolution launched in 1896 by the plebeian Andres Bonifacio. It was an unfinished revolution. For, to this day, poverty remains our national problem. We need to complete what Andres Bonifacio began. The ultimate solution to poverty has both a political and an economic aspect. Let me first talk about the political aspect.

In doing so, I will refer to one of my core beliefs, that of the need for new politics. Politics and political power as traditionally practiced and used in the Philippines are among the roots of the social and economic inequities that characterize our national problems. Thus to achieve true reforms, we need to outgrow our traditional brand of politics based on patronage and personality. Traditional politics is the politics of the status quo. It is a structural part of the problem. We need to promote a new politics of true party programs and platforms, of an institutional process [End Page 184] of dialogue with our citizenry. This new politics is the politics of genuine reform. It is a structural part of the solution. We have long accepted the need to level the playing field in business and economics. Now, we must accept the need to level the playing field in politics as well. We have long aspired to be a world class economy. Now, we must also aspire to develop a world class political system, one in tune with the twenty-first century.

The world of the twenty-first century that our youth will inherit is truly a new economy, where relentless forces such as capital market flows and advances in information and communications technology create both peril and opportunity. To tap the opportunities, we need an economic philosophy of transparency and private enterprise, for these are the catalysts that nurture the entrepreneurial spirit to be globally competitive. To extend the opportunities to our rural countryside, we must create a modernized and socially equitable agricultural sector. To address the perils, we must give a social bias to balance our economic development, and these are embodied in safety nets for sectors affected by globalization, and safeguards for our environment. To ensure that our gains are not dissipated through corruption, we must improve moral standards. As we do so, we create fertile ground for good governance based on a sound moral foundation, a philosophy of transparency, and an ethic of effective implementation.


On February 14-15, Bahrainis of both sexes went to the polls and overwhelmingly approved a referendum on a “National Action Charter for the State of Bahrain.” The charter, which establishes a partially elected legislature and an independent judiciary, was supported by both the country’s leader, Amir Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and the opposition. Excerpts from the charter appear below:

Personal liberty is ensured under the law. . . . Personal correspondence shall enjoy inviolability and secrecy. Mail, cable, telephone, electronic, and other correspondence shall be protected. . . . The state ensures freedom of belief. Freedom of conscience shall be absolute. . . . Every citizen shall have the right to express himself orally, in writing, or in any other way of expression of personal opinion or creativity. . . . With a view to enabling the society to make use of all civil capabilities and activities, the state ensures the freedom to form nongovernmental, scientific, cultural, professional associations and unions at a national level for legitimate purposes through peaceful means under terms and conditions as may be prescribed by law. . . .

The government system of Bahrain shall be a constitutional monarchy. . . . The Amir is the head of state. His person is inviolable. . . .

Islam is the religion of the state. Islamic Shari’a is the principal source [End Page 185] of legislation. . . . The government system of the state of Bahrain is a democracy where all powers vest with the people. . . .

With a view to consecrating a stable democracy, the government system is based on checks and balances, i.e., the separation of, and cooperation among, the three powers namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as set forth in the constitution. H.H. the Amir is at the helm of the three powers. . . .

Government in the state of Bahrain is based on the rule of law. The independence and immunity of the judiciary are two key guarantees for protecting rights and freedom. . . . Citizens, men and women alike, have the right to participate in public affairs and political rights including suffrage. . . .

In order to broaden people’s participation in public affairs, in line with principle of Shura, a basic Islamic principle of the government system of Bahrain, and in true belief of the right of the entire people to practice their constitutional political rights and with a view to being congruent with deep-rooted democracies, it is in the interest of the state of Bahrain to adopt a bicameral system whereby the legislature will consist of two chambers, namely one that is constituted through free, direct elections whose mandate will be to enact laws, and a second one that would have people with experience and expertise who would give advice as necessary.


On February 21, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do issued an “Appeal for Democracy” on behalf of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). The appeal was sent to Vietnamese government and Communist party leaders, and also to the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau for dissemination to the international community. An excerpt from the statement follows:

Today, as countries all over the world are racing to develop increasingly prosperous, free, and democratic societies, our country remains paralyzed and poor, our people stifled and oppressed. In his Message for the Lunar New Year in 2001, the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, the UBCV’s Patriarch and Head of the Institute of the Sangha resumed this in one sentence: “We have endured 35 years of war followed by 25 years [under the present regime], deprived of human rights or religious freedom!” A total of sixty miserable, dark years that have led us to this impasse with no possible means of escape.

This tragic situation persists because it is supported by three factors: 1) A pretentious, self-absorbed government that rejects all alternative opinion, resulting in a one-party authoritarian regime; 2) A government that excludes the people and rejects their legitimate demands for human [End Page 186] rights and civil liberties, resulting in a ruthless, repressive dictatorship; 3) A government that imports everything from abroad, from its ideology to the organizational structures of the state apparatus, and imposes it unilaterally, resulting in the total disruption of Vietnamese society and civilization. This has reduced our people to cultural alienation and slavery, provoking the decay of moral values and the nation’s decline.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam has inherited this tradition of engaged Vietnamese Buddhism both in doctrine and action, succeeding to a twenty-century-long heritage of building and protecting the nation. Today, the UBCV cannot stand idle and watch with indifference as our country plunges into a profound crisis and our people sink into poverty, deprived of their fundamental freedoms and human rights. We therefore solemnly call upon Vietnamese from all walks of life, regardless of their political opinions or religious beliefs, as well as all UBCV monks, nuns and lay-followers to mobilize their energies and rally together in a common movement to seek radical solutions to the grave problems threatening our country today.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam considers that:

To counter the current trend of one-party dictatorship, a popular alliance composed of different religious and political tendencies should be formed to lay the foundations of a democratic and pluralist government. Specifically, Article 4 of the Constitution [on the supremacy of the Communist Party and Marxist-Leninist doctrine] should be abolished. Vietnamese culture and thinking, with its traditions of freedom and tolerance dating back to the times of our Founding Fathers, the Hung Kings, should retrieve its supreme position in society, thus stimulating the emergence of this broad-based popular alliance.

To counter the entrenched control of the totalitarian regime, all UN human rights instruments and international covenants on political and civil rights to which Vietnam is a state party must be fully implemented. Concretely, freedom to form associations should not be subjected to approval by the Fatherland Front, which is a political tool of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP); freedom of expression should not be subordinated to Marxist-Leninist doctrines and thinking; freedom of the press should include the right to publish privately-owned newspapers independent of VCP control; freedom to form free trade unions outside VCP structures to protect worker rights should be fully guaranteed. The respect of these fundamental freedoms will safeguard the free expression of the people’s democratic aspirations and . . . right to life.

To counter the blind imposition of an alien, imported ideology upon all aspects of the society and state, the renaissance of a tradition-based Vietnamese civilization should be encouraged. This civilization should uphold the national cultural heritage whilst remaining open to cross-cultural communication, with the capacity to absorb the quintessence of cultural currents from all over the world to enrich its own culture.