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從南韓到斯里蘭卡﹕恥辱的選舉

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF ELECTIONS: FROM SOUTH KOREA TO SRI LANKA

By Tom Plate

March 16, 2003

SINGAPORE -- A few years ago I was waiting patiently in an anteroom at the Blue House in Seoul for an interview with the then-President of South Korea when, suddenly, an aide rushed in with a cup of tea. The President, it seemed, was running a bit late, and the hot tea was for while I waited. “It’s ginseng,” he said, “it’s good for the manhood.”

Well, as this was the 10th time at least during this particular three-day stay in Korea that ginseng brew had been offered as “good for the manhood,” I couldn’t take it any more. “Mr. Park,” I said, “my manhood is just fine, thank you very much indeed; but, as it happens, I am here to interview the President, please, not have sex with him!”

True story: Caught off guard at first, the aide recovered, laughed loudly, and muttered something like: In all my time here at the Blue House, you are the first one to say anything like that!

Well, good -- let me now be the first one to say something else to my Korean friends: Stop it with the “manhood politics,” stuff your ginseng back where it belongs, and zip it.  You’re supposed to be running the country like adults, not waving your manhood around like adolescents.

But that’s what’s happening now in South Korea these days. It’s a mad, mad world of politics, and it’s very sad to see. The ginseng legislature is in the control of the majority parties that are fighting popularly elected President. Roh (pronounced “No”), made the mistake of openly praising his party, in anticipation of legislative elections next month. The impeachers are technically right: What Roh said was a violation of the constitutional separation of the presidency from overt partisanship, and so it was a no-no for Roh. The offense, however, was not exactly the second coming of Watergate.

But with this absurd impeachment psychodrama, the world is coming to understand the true nasty fragility of Korean politics. A military dictatorship until 1987, the Republic of Korea not only faces a deeply divided Korean peninsula overall ­ in the north with the heavily armed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ­ but struggles against its own domestic psychoses in a South Korea that is deeply geographically divided itself.

A persistently adolescent polity might paradoxically begin to undermine a more mature economy. Thus the Korean legislative elections, scheduled for April 15, while emblematic of democracy, also generate problems for stability.

In fact, much of Asia is undergoing similar election agonies right now. Another major basket case is undoubtedly Taiwan, where flamboyant, edgy President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is running for his reelection life this Saturday [March 20] against stolid Lien Chan of the Kuomintang (KMT). The latter is a religious Buddhist; the former is a secular politician particularly skilled at taunting Mainland China.

Beijing used to be easier to bait than an old-fashioned grandmother; but the current Hu Jintao government is trying its best to play it cool. But should Chen be re-elected, Sweet Grandma Mainland may turn into ferocious Mother Matrix if the taunting from Taipei for formal independence continues.

Asian election flu is all over: The very next day (March 21) Malaysia holds its national parliamentary elections. Observers expect the ruling party to do well. That would please Washington. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad supported the U.S. anti-terror campaign, though not the war in Iraq; but with the crafty Mahathir gone into retirement, how secular a Muslim state will Malaysia remain? So, how well the opposition parties do this weekend may portend Malaysia’s future ­ and a Bush administration nightmare.

Giant India faces a slew of elections beginning April 20 -- and continuing through May 10. Imagine: some 675 million Indians could potentially go to the computerized polls. The ruling national Hindu party has run a helpfully non-inflammatory campaign in a country where Muslims are a minority ­ but a huge one.

Neighboring Sri Lanka ­ still staggering from the wounds of decades of civil war ­ goes to the polls April 2.  This is the third parliamentary election in four years. Widespread violence marred the last round of elections. With tensions between the majority Singhalese and minority Tamils heating up again, observers fear the worst.

In Sri Lanka --- as in South Korea and Taiwan, and to a lesser extent India ­ elections tend to be anything but a cure-all. They can even make things worse. Is that a reason to suspend them? Of course not.  But any democracy worth the name is a lot more complicated than simply giving people a vote ­ and watching politicians do their exploitation number. Okay, so it’s good for their manhood.

 
 

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