It keeps happening, this pell-mell rush to elections. A country is struggling to come out of conflict we insist on elections straightaway. A country has just survived decades of colonial or authoritarian rule, we insist on elections immediately. The elections happen in some often ramshackle, rough and ready manner then we claim that a new democracy has been born. And we pile on all the expectations of ‘democratic governance’.
And who is the ‘we’ above? That strange creature known as the international community, that’s what.
That this business of hurling ‘elections’ at complexity often ends in tears has not deterred the international community, has not led to a reconsideration of the formula. Each time the effort breaks down in a particular country what is the new cry? Fresh elections of course, as soon as possible!
There are enormous problems bedeviling this approach. The main one is that it resolutely ignores the fact that you cannot build a stable constitutional democracy (more about the formal features in a moment) unless certain structural factors are in place. For instance, one of the things that I find upsetting is how people fail to realize that if you simply rush to elections in a country run until that point as a well-developed authoritarian state, especially if these are winners-take-all elections, what the victors inherit is not a democratic state. What they inherit is an authoritarian state. What do you think the victors are going to do? They are going to use the powers, tools and habits of the authoritarian state to serve their own interests and crush their opponents. And they will claim to be able to do so in the name of something called democracy. That is what happened in post-colonial states in places like Africa and eventually led to all manner of civil wars.