The Democratization Project: Opportunities and Challenges

The Democratization Project: Opportunities and Challenges


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Democratization is a field where unexpected and sudden events have repeatedly challenged conventional wisdom. For example, who in the mid-1970s would have foreseen the democratization of Cambodia, Albania, South Africa or East Timor? Our current 'wave' of democratization is complex and diverse and understanding it requires a variety of theoretical approaches.

Most of the literature on democracy assumes that it is the best form of government. Theoretical works on democratic transition and democratization have also emphasized the internal conflict resolution capacity of democracy. It has been reasoned that democracy reduces the likelihood of discrimination, especially of ethno-political minorities, and thus the possibility of political repression. However, the democratic peace theory has not been explicitly tested with reference to third world post-colonial states, where most internal violent conflicts take place. Certainly, there is a dearth of practical advice for policy makers on how to design and implement democratic levers that can make internal peace and stability endure in the South.

This volume, drawing on the work of a variety of scholars, will contribute to identifying and understanding the challenges and opportunities of this 'democratization project' to the peace and development of the world both at the domestic level in selected countries, trends in regions of the world, and in the global system of the post-Cold War Era.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780857283993
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 07/01/2011
Series: Anthem Studies in Peace, Conflict and Development
Pages: 198
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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The Democratization Project: Opportunities and Challenges

By Ashok Swain, Ramses Amer, Joakim Öjendal

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Ashok Swain, Ramses Amer and Joakim Öjendal
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85728-399-3



Ashok Swain, Ramses Amer and Joakim Öjendal

Introduction and Context

In 1974, starting with the arrival of democracy in Portugal, more than 60 countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa have made transitions from authoritarianism to some form of democracy. Democracy has now become the dominant form of government in the world. Its appeal and popularity is more widespread than ever before. Many political struggles are increasingly being fought in different parts of the world in the name of democracy. The democratic development in many of these newly democratic countries has often been sluggish, turbulent and marked by regular reversals. Though performance of many of these democracies continues to be disappointing, the cases of complete reversal from democracy to authoritarian rule are very few. In the last century, the per cent of global population living in democratic countries has increased from 12 per cent in 1900 to 63 per cent in 2000. A near consensus has now been achieved among decision-makers and academics alike on the virtues of democracy. Besides freedom and prosperity, successful democratization is argued to bring peace and security to unstable regions of the world.

This global trend relates mainly to developments within individual countries or within a number of countries, i.e., the internal or domestic developments. If 'democracy' is interpreted as a particular system of governance, this approach may be adequate. However, if, as has been the case the last decades, democracy is increasingly talked about as a value system, as a process, constantly in the making, the relation to the domestic sphere only becomes superficial. In addition, globalization tends to blur the boundaries between domestic and international 'democracy', further emphasising the significance of the debate on democracy as a guide in the international system. Hence, a couple of contributions in this volume address developments at the global level relating to relations between countries. The latter relates to a problematique that can be formulated into the following question: How democratic is the 'New World Order'?

Democracy and Democratization

Democratization is a field in which unexpected and sudden events have repeatedly challenged conventional wisdom. For example, who in the mid-1970s would have foreseen the democratization of Cambodia, Albania, South Africa or East Timor? The developments in Georgia, and the advances toward democratic rule in Indonesia and Paraguay, have tested, and are testing, many of our previous assumptions. In the last two decades, several countries have experienced processes of democratization. The on-going wave of democratization, like previous ones, is not a smooth and straightforward one; some countries, like Pakistan and Thailand, are moving in and out of democratic rule. More importantly, it challenges most of the established theories on how democratic societies emerge. Whether referring to the 'Lipset's Law' (Lipset 1959), the role of 'pacts' (O'Donnell & Schmitter 1986), or more Marxist-influenced explanations on the role of the working class (Therborn 1977), we are left wanting for more solid and reliable theories. And it is rather telling that a metaphor like 'the third wave' was dominating the debate during the 1990s (Huntington 1991). Instead, the democratization process appears as emerging from utterly complex combinations of underlying factors, putting the viability of predictability and 'engineering' into serious doubt.

A deeper understanding seems to require a variety of theoretical approaches. These rapid and thorough societal changes in many parts of the world present important challenges and opportunities for theorists and policymakers alike. Large segments of the international donor community is committed to democracy through a variety of means, such as interventions (Paris 2004; Ottaway 2003), support to socio-economic development and through support to civil society. This commitment may have suffered some serious handicaps after 9/11, but it has still remained the main mantra of the aid agencies.

Democracy becomes the 'only game in town when no significant political groups seriously attempt to overthrow the democratic system or secede from the state' (Linz and Stepan 1995, 5). Most of the literature on democracy assumes that it is the best form of government. Implicit in the literature on democracy is the idea that a democratic government is the best way to manage conflict, both internal and external. In fact, as Shapiro and Cordon (1999) point out, there is a strong tendency to associate democracy with a wide range of activities and outcomes that people respect.

Recent research has focussed on how democracy can be defined and measured. There is a discussion on whether democracy must be defined in the most minimal way, or if it should be defined as and all-encompassing phenomenon. To Schumpeter (1942), democracy is merely a system in which rulers were selected by competitive elections. Popper (1962) defines it as a means by which people removed rulers without resource to force. In contrast to this minimalist definition of democracy, Dahl's (1956) framework of 'polyarchy' asks for — as essential to democracy — the presence of elected officials; free and fair elections; inclusive suffrage; the right to run for public office; freedom of expression; existence and availability of alternative information; and associational autonomy. In a Marxist tradition, definitions go beyond that and ask for economic democracy and an equitable distribution of resources in order to be legitimate and real (Bello 2001).

The definition of democracy is still contested in many transitory democracies. They face various challenges such as the lack of legitimacy, absence of deep democratic values, weak political parties, organized group or ethnic interests and confusing electoral systems. These democracies also struggle to achieve customization of politics, the decentralization of state power, judicial reform, the alleviation of poverty and economic stabilization (Schedler 1998; cf. Diamond 1999).

Democracy can be defined as a system in which the government is in power by the consent of the people and the government is accountable to the governed (Schmitter and Karl 1991; Schmitter 2004). Both of these are crucial, and the denial of one of them leads to a crisis of legitimacy of the state. In fact, many transitory democracies, in refusing to constitutionally guarantee minority rights, consistently took resource to the argument that democracy meant majority rule, putting the minority in a position closely comparable to the subjects of arbitrary power (O'Brien 1983). Przeworski (1999) argues that majoritarian politics do not converge on common interests in modern polities, and that elections do not represent the general will. Roeder (2003) argues for institutional guarantee of minority rights against a predatory majority in a democracy, and Lijphart (1977) has developed a term — 'consociationalism' — in order to institutionalize the idea of minority protection in a majority system.

Whereas the recent trend of democratization in Latin America in the 1980s and the sudden changes in Eastern Europe in the 1990s triggered the wide use of 'transition' as a principal perspective, some research works have attempted to explain why the new democracies have not been able to benefit from the values of democracy. Thomas Carothers (2002, 6) explains that 'Many countries that policy makers and aid practitioners persist in calling "transitional" are not in transition to democracy, and of the democratic transitions that are under way, more than a few are not following the model.' Others argue that a new form of government, 'semi-authoritarian', has emerged in the new democracies that rose in the third wave of democratization (Brumberg 2002). These states, rather than following a transitory path towards democratic development, are a new political phenomenon in themselves. They skilfully combine the attributes of both democracies and authoritarian states. These states maintain serious authoritarian traits while rhetorically accepting the liberal democracy, maintaining some formal democratic institutions and respecting a limited sphere of civil and political rights. As Ottaway (2003) explains, they 'maintain the appearance of democracy without exposing themselves to the political risks that free competition entails'. These political systems are plentifully found in former Soviet successor states, and Russia itself can be seen as a good example of this phenomenon.

There are some doubts about whether democracies can be measured objectively and can be ranked as mature, transition, or lacking (Beetham 1994, cf. 'Freedom House Index'). Some are of the opinion that democracy cannot be easily measured, as the theoretical conception of democracy, because of its multidimensional nature, cannot be fully operational (Elklit 1994; Haynes 2001). Some argue for the application of the 'inclusion' approach while doing democratic auditing of a particular state. As Young (2002) explains, 'The normative legitimacy of a democratic decision depends on the degree to which those affected by it have been included in the decision making process and have had the opportunity to influence the outcomes.' The basic idea of this approach is that anyone who is affected by a decision should have a say in the taking of that decision (Thompson & Gutmann 1996; Christiano 1996). Klare (1994) suggests a new 'post-liberal' conception of democracy which is 'more egalitarian, participatory, and environmentally sensitive'. However, the dilemma is while, in theory, there is a growing trend to broaden the concept of democracy, many new democracies are facing serious challenges, even to sustain basic democratic institutions and values.

Democracy and Development

There is no clear consensus on the causal relationship between democracy and economic development. It is still a puzzle whether economic development comes before democratization or democratization comes before development (cf. Sorensen 1997). Some argue that economic growth leads to democracy (Lipset 1959), while others suggest that democratic systems are more conducive to economic growth (Olson 1993). There are several examples of very poor and impoverished countries experiencing significant and rapid economic growth under authoritarian system of governance. Some of the notable ones are: Chile, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and current-day China. There are also many antidevelopment autocrats who have brought economic miseries to their peoples: Zaire under Mobutu, Zimbabwe under Mugabe, North Korea under Kim Jong Il and the Philippines under Marcos. Many rich countries are developed democracies, like the United States of America (USA), Canada and many European countries. At the same time, there are a number of democratically elected governments in the world that have become restraining factors in their respective country's economic development. Some of the democracies, which have suffered from irresponsible macroeconomic policies and political vulnerabilities are Columbia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Thus, it may be safe to argue that neither democracy nor authoritarianism are a necessary condition for economic growth. Paradoxically, the cases in which liberal democracies have triggered rapid economic growth — which according to the existing dogma constitutes the ideal combination — may be the most rare combination. India, post-1993, and Brazil in the last decade, may be two (very atypical) exceptions.

Comparing the Indian economy with the Chinese economy has become almost a pastime for many commentators. The economic surge of a non-democratic China in the post-1978 period had posed a stark contrast to the near financial bankruptcy of Indian democracy in the early 1990s. Being branded as a 'dysfunctional democracy, India was cited as an example in which traditional elites dominate the political parties and interest groups, and they subvert and compromise the institutions vital for country's economic growth by adopting populist policies. Many started advocating that it is easier to achieve economic growth in a top-down command economy like China's than in a messy democratic system like India.

Democratic India's recent economic success matching with authoritarian China's has somewhat helped at put to rest the debate on the relationship between the form of government and economic development. The China–India debate illustrates perfectly the strengths/weaknesses of democracy/authoritarianism in developing countries: democratic systems are vulnerable to vested interests of elite groups and irresponsible populist politics, whereas authoritarianism is too centralist to manage a plural and complex globalized economy (and 'globalized politics'), inevitably creating bottlenecks and patronage politics, and thereby failing to buy itself the legitimacy it requires. Interestingly, currently, they both seem to overcome the vulnerabilities of their respective systems. The reasons for this remain to be discovered. Moreover, India's current success is likely to help convince the peoples and rulers in the South that democracy does not necessarily impede economic growth in their part of the world.

International and Global Dimensions

It is increasingly being accepted that democracy and peace are inextricably linked. Democracy is being seen as the harbinger of global peace, as statistically it has been shown that democracies rarely, if ever, go to war with each other. This is the essence of the 'democratic peace' doctrine that has developed in the research community in particular through the work of Bruce Russett (Russett 1994). A revised 'democratic peace' argument has been used — as in the context of the US-led military intervention in Iraq in 2003 — to justify waging war against another country in the name of achieving 'lasting peace' (Russett 2005). The perception of the military intervention in Iraq as establishing democracy by use of force from the outside can be linked to the proponents of 'pro democratic' and 'pro self-determination' military interventions (e.g., Reisman 1990). The legality of such actions has been questioned by other scholars (e.g., Ryan 1991). The debate on Iraq is not unique since foreign military interventions carried out by the USA have often been the subject of considerable scholarly debate, e.g., Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989 (Amer 1997). The legal debate relating to recent cases of foreign military interventions reflect that the use of force and the regulation of the use of force are the main issues of concern and not the internal political situation in the target state (e.g., Brownlie 2001, Gazzini 2005, O'Conell 2007). This reflects that, in the legal debate, the use of force without prior authorization by the Security Council of the United Nations is considered a challenge to the international legal order. This can be contrasted with the situation at the end of the Cold War and, in particular, in the early 1990s, when the Security Council was able to respond forcefully to the military intervention by Iraq in Kuwait in 1990. This development was heralded as the beginning of a 'New World Order'. However, by the late 1990s, differences among the permanent members of the Security Council led to the re-emergence of individual and collective use of force (military intervention) without prior authorization of the Security Council — the most prominent cases being NATO's intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in 1999 and the US-led intervention against Iraq in 2003. The latter case, coupled with the formulation of the new US doctrine of 'preemption', has led to considerable scholarly attention and debate (Amer 2007). It is here where the distinction between how 'democracy' is thought of domestically, and how it is thought of in international affairs becomes the most evident and contradictory. Interestingly, while the idea that 'democracies do not go to war with each other' was rapidly adapted and applied to the domestic scene, making democratic systems the only way to solidify peace in post-conflict situations, the democratic idea of 'one person, one vote' has not been adapted to the international system. While not surprising, in the context of the rights- and morale-laden debate on democracy, it illuminates the blatant mix of power and normative ideals involved in this debate.


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