In several developing countries, military generals remain a big factor in politics. They may rule directly. They may rule thinly disguised as civilians. Or they may constitute the class of players --sometimes known as the Deep State -- able to affect what passes for democratic politics in the specific country should a vital interest of theirs be threatened. In such political communities, while the international community may want ‘free and fair’ elections (right now!), and good, accountable governance, structural factors impose their own realities; those factors define the jagged boundaries of the possible.
Because military generals control the ultimate instruments of coercive violence in a political community, it is tempting, and all too common, to think about them as rough beasts invading our perfumed salons. What we often forget is that in societies seeking to transition to modernity, and attempting the grounding of liberal constitutional democracy, the process often boils down to a tussle for power between civilian politicians and politicians in military uniform. In addition, it is wrong, in my view, to believe that military generals only ever want direct military or authoritarian rule. Sometimes, as happened in my own country, Nigeria, they can decide as a class that constitutional democracy is in their broad interest, but they want it to happen on their terms, in ways that protect their liberties, their fortunes and those of their friends, families and partners.