In his annual address to Congress on September 1, Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo candidly spoke of some of his country’s serious problems, but emphasized its commitment to democracy. Excerpts appear below:
Mexico is now living in democracy. Democratic life in Mexico is today being authentically and actively experienced in representative and decision-making bodies, in public forums, in political and social organizations, and in the mass media; but above all, in citizens’ mindset and attitudes. Never before has democracy been so much a part of the nation’s life as it is today. This cannot be attributed to, nor is it the accomplishment of, any single individual, any single group, or even any single generation.
Building our democracy has cost long and arduous efforts. It has even cost men and women their lives. Because of this, it is the responsibility of us all to appreciate and safeguard our democracy. And all of us also have the responsibility to practice it. Practicing democracy involves decision-making processes, standards of conduct, and ways of doing and saying things to which we must all become accustomed.
Democracy implies the free expression of our differences, which give rise to more intense, sometimes heated, debate. It implies, as well, a broader panorama for putting forward proposals, objections, and counterproposals on all important national issues.
Democracy implies strong public opinion. It implies constant attention on the part of society and a closer scrutiny of public affairs. Together with the vast majority of Mexicans, I feel absolutely certain that we will all realize, sooner rather than later, that our political life is healthier and works better in a democracy than under authoritarian rule. [End Page 179]
We Mexicans reject authoritarianism because it relies on force, overrides the law, and is not accountable to anyone. We reject authoritarianism because it restricts our freedoms, stifles debate, and represses differences of opinion. Today’s Mexicans reject authoritarianism because it is intolerant and is imposed through violence, and because it acts without control and without measure.
We Mexicans of today have fought for openness, tolerance, and free participation, and to ensure that the nation’s interest takes precedence over personal or group interests. Mexicans have fought for democracy because it is the one system that enables us to tackle challenges and solve problems without trampling on people’s rights and without excluding anyone. Democracy provides a solution—the will of the majority and respect for minorities—even when we do not see eye to eye.
We know that democracy demands, more than any other system, that politics be practiced with honesty, tolerance, and restraint; that, at all times, we must respect one another, behave with civility, and participate in a constructive manner. Democracy demands that politics be practiced with a strong vocation for service, a long-term vision, and a profound sense of duty.
Furthermore, democracy requires a careful balance between the branches of government and a clear sense of shared responsibility in performing the functions vested in each by the law. That sense of joint responsibility implies that each branch must abide by the Constitution at all times, while maintaining respectful, ongoing communication with the other branches, and assuming and fulfilling its own responsibilities.
Ever since the beginning of my mandate, I have expressed my commitment to exercise exclusively the authority that the Constitution confers on the President of the Republic. I believe that this is how one should act, so that areas previously dominated by the unduly excessive power of the Presidency can now be the province of the many political participants required by a democratic system. . . .
Mexicans want a government that is seen as the sum of its three branches, one that is orderly, civil, and functional; a government that is pluralistic and united by the higher interests of the Nation and by the effective performance of the tasks assigned to each branch.
That means building consensus, working together, reaching agreements, and carrying them out. Specifically, in the issues that most concern Mexicans today, citizens expect the Executive and Legislative Branches to work in a jointly responsible, constructive, and useful manner, which will surely strengthen our democracy.
Moreover, only within the framework of law and democracy can we and should we resolve problems that have plagued all Mexicans and that remind us that at their roots are many years of accumulated deficiencies, injustice, and neglect. [End Page 180]
I firmly believe that there can be differences and even temporary conflicts between Mexicans, but there cannot and should not be any lasting discord, wars, or winners and losers. . . .
Negotiation and jointly responsible effort form part of democracy. Anyone who genuinely wishes to contribute to democracy should practice them. In the task of consolidating democracy, citizens are setting the example by becoming well informed and participating openly and responsibly; by casting their vote in elections and reaffirming that this is the only legitimate means to contend for power.
Over the past twelve months, there have been elections to select governors in six states of the Republic and to renew ten state legislatures and 635 town councils. Each new electoral process is confirming the Mexican people’s vocation for democracy. A stronger democracy will make Mexico a stronger and more respected nation.
At a ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila on July 24, Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan called for a policy of “flexible engagement” that would allow member states to voice concerns over one another’s domestic issues, where these have regional consequences. This was widely interpreted as a departure from ASEAN’s longstanding policy of noninterference. Excerpts from his opening statement appear below:
After thirty years of existence, we in ASEAN must have the confidence and resolve to expand our horizons as set forth in the ASEAN Vision 2020.
The principle of noninterference is not the issue and has never been the issue. The name or terminology is also not of any real significance either. Let us instead focus on the real issues—what is at stake for ASEAN and what we together can do about it. For the real issue is how we can work together to strengthen ASEAN’s cohesiveness, relevance, and effectiveness in dealing with the new challenges of a new millennium.
Can we deny the fact that the nature of security threats facing the region in the next century is likely to change? Instead of armed aggression and conflict, pressing challenges in the form of economic disruptions and transnational problems, such as illicit drugs, international crime, and environmental degradation, will become more prominent. Like it or not, the issues of democracy and human rights are those that we have to increasingly deal with in our engagement with the outside world. How are we going to put ourselves on the offensive rather than always be on the receiving end? [End Page 181]
Can we deny the fact that, with increased interdependence, events in one country can and have indeed affected other countries in ASEAN? We must also accept the fact that ASEAN unity does not mean that we all have to fit the same mold. Our ability to forge unity out of diversity has always been one of our fundamental strengths. Each nation should be able to adhere to the values and ideals that its society holds dear while keeping its commitments and responsibilities as a member of the ASEAN community.
These are the issues that we have to deal with. In today’s globalized world, the issues have become so complex and multidimensional that a new vision is needed. And dealing with these issues is not a matter of choice; it is a matter of necessity and urgency. It is not a matter of interfering in the affairs of another country. Rather, it is a matter of being open with one another on issues that impact on the region. It is rather a matter of taking more proactive concern about one another and being supportive of one another whenever needed. It is a matter of enhancing our interactions for the benefit of all.
On August 30, Panamanian president Ernesto Pérez Balladares conceded defeat after losing a referendum (64 percent to 34 percent) on a proposed constitutional change that would have allowed him to seek reelection. Currently, after serving one five-year term, the president must sit out two terms before running again. Excerpts from his statement appear below:
I want to make a brief statement to say to all my fellow citizens that this was a day of triumph; a day in which our democracy was consolidated; a day in which I was pleased, as always, to listen to the people’s voice. And we have heard it very clearly. The Panamanian people decided not to give themselves the rights we proposed. We accept this humbly and very gladly.
I also wish to say that this dispels assumptions that were made about this electoral activity that should have been a referendum and was apparently turned into an electoral confrontation. The truth is that what we have maintained was confirmed: The Electoral Tribunal should have all our trust, all our respect, and should receive the citizens’ applause, because it complied with the duties of a democracy in a complete and honest manner.
My wife and I, as well as the government team, are very pleased to have completed a day of consultations. We have a year in government left. During this year we will make every effort to complete as many as possible of the programs that are still pending. Moreover, there is absolutely no doubt that in May 1999 we will again hold, as has [End Page 182] fortunately become a tradition among us, honest and pure elections for the Panamanian people. And on 1 September 1999 I will gladly transfer the country’s helm to whoever is chosen by the people.
Addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress on July 15, President Emil Constantinescu of Romania spoke of the community of freedom that Romanians joined in 1989. Excerpts from his speech appear below:
We call America the Land of Freedom because this has been its guiding principle, as well as a source of inspiration to other countries around the world. But the term “Land of Freedom” stands also for a virtual community of like-minded and like-hearted people all over the world who believe in the defense of liberty, of human rights, and of human dignity. People of all races and backgrounds and religions are welcomed to join.
Regardless of where they live on the globe, people who believe in freedom are citizens of the virtual Land of Freedom. Since the fall of Communism, its numbers have grown steadily and enthusiastically. Since 1989, 23 million Romanians are among the proudest members. . . .
In the new global order, this Land of Freedom spans the globe from West to East and from North to South. It is an expansive land of constantly changing landscape and with ever-changing contours. Its elusive borders are defined by each and every individual who is willing to defend liberty, property, and respect the rule of law. . . .
For more than 1,000 years, the borders of Europe have been drawn or changed by war, dictate, or external pressure. Since the Second World War, NATO has succeeded in maintaining peace in, and for, Western Europe, and fostering well-being and progress in the nations that share its mission. At the same time, in Europe’s Communist east, old conflicts lay frozen while new ones kept emerging. When the Berlin Wall collapsed at last, the peoples of the east won their freedom, but not the ability to put it to use together.
In this new and traumatic historical adventure—transition from totalitarian regimes to democracy and from centrally planned economies to a market economy—the idea of joining NATO did not merely grow out of a need to be a part of a defensive military alliance. As a vector of a set of fundamental values of modern civilization, it has become the supreme expression capable of harnessing the major goal of human solidarity. Issues that had seemed impossible to solve, both within and between the various East European countries, can now find a solution through a joint democratic exercise that has replaced the harsh logic of confrontation with dialogue and cooperation.