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.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very differently from today's, and will have very little resemblance to yesterday's.
This week's Media (R)evolutions: Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, 2002-2011.
Note: "On the vertical axis is the change in percent of a country's population online over the last decade. The horizontal axis reflects any change in the democratization score- any slide toward authoritarianism is represented by a negative number."
"Democracy makes a country less aggressive - and financial growth deteriorates."
-- Cecil Chao, Hong Kong property tycoon.
As quoted in the Financial Times, January 27, 2013. The $65m dowry for any man who can woo Cecil Chao’s lesbian daughter, by David Pilling.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
"Over the past several years two seemingly independent ideas have been gaining traction:
- New technology allows developing nations to leapfrog over traditional growth patterns (M-PESA, long-range wi-fi).
- The increasing move towards “convenience models” may be pointing the US’ tech sector away from innovation (Peter Thiel’s “they promised us flying cars but instead we got 140 characters”).
In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Robert J. Gordon writes that the US’ current wave of innovation is less of a step forward and more of a lateral move, merely finding novel ways to use innovations made 20 years ago, sitting him squarely alongside Thiel. To illustrate, Gordon asks the following hypothetical question between two options, A and B:
With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002. Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?" READ MORE
The United States Institute of Peace has a very interesting paper out on ‘Democratic Breakthroughs: the Ingredients of Successful Revolts.’ It's a bit reductionist, but identifies some potentially informative patterns. This from the summary:
The cases of successful breakthrough examined in this study are the Soviet Union in 1991 and Russia in 1993, Poland in 1989, Serbia in 2000, Ukraine in 2004, Indonesia by 1999, Chile in 1988, and South Africa by 1996. Cases of failed and then ultimately successful democratic transition are Ghana by 2000, Mexico by 2000, South Korea by 1987, and Turkey by 1983. Finally, the cases of failed transition examined are Algeria in 1991, Iran in 1979, China in 1989, and Azerbaijan in 2005.
Think about it:
- Twitter limits all "conversations" to 140 words
- Twitter allows privacy whereas Facebook is based on discovery of relationships
- Twitter relationships can be one way, the way real relationships often are (we all “know” President Obama but he knows very few of us) whereas Facebook is always a two way street
Wherever democracy is absent or weak, for example in a dictatorship or a monarchy, there could be a high price to pay for any open expressed dissension. Twitter allows anonymity for those who push for transparency and democracy. Although one can exist without the other, studies show that the two are highly linked.
A 2011 study from the University of Washington entitled “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?” showed that social media, via Twitter, played a vital role during the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt. The authors said “for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring”. The project created a database of information collected from Twitter, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on keywords used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals tweeted from during the revolutions.
To make governments truly accountable to their citizens, by far the best basis is to have credible elections. When citizens can actually throw out governments they no longer approve of then you have a fundamental framework for transforming accountability relationships. This is true even when you concede that elections are not perfect instruments of accountability. More needs to be done in the period between elections; citizen vigilance must not wane. But free and fair elections are incredible accountability devices.
That is why for new or young democracies, the first time a sitting government concedes defeat in an election is a milestone. It does not follow that the new democracy is going to make it but you know immediately that the basis is being created for constitutional democracy. Hopes begin to rise that maybe, just maybe, another new democracy is becoming viable. So, while staying out of the intricacies of the politics of Georgia and its passions, please join me in saluting the fact that President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia conceded that his party lost the recent elections in that country and promised to work with the new government for the remainder of his own term. That singular act of statesmanship has now set the stage, as CNN reports, ‘for the nation’s first peaceful, democratic transition through election since the breakup of the Soviet Union’. And as the political scientist Joshua Tucker, writing in The Monkey Cage, points out, ‘this is a further step of the incremental growth of Georgian pluralism. But it is not a final step.’ Here’s hoping Georgia continues to take these steps to pluralism.
“So we come out of the Rushdie affair with one thing in common: democratic life together is a hard bargain. Each of us, Muslim believer and secular liberal, wishes the other were different. But we are not, and living together requires us to accept what we cannot change.”
--Michael Ignatieff, Financial Times, September 14, 2012. The lessons from Rushdie’s fatwa years.
While democracy is developing and strengthening in more and more countries across the world, there may be some lessons to learn from older, established democracies. Democracy does not equal democracy – different forms and philosophical foundations shape different political cultures. Different political cultures favor different practices and outcomes. The political and civic leadership in evolving democracies may possibly have a chance to push things in one or another direction by looking at practices and outcomes in other countries.
- Middle East and North Africa
- The World Region
- deliberative democracy
- participatory democracy
- Adversarial Democracy
- political culture
- Diana Mutz
- Hearing the Other Side
- Uri Ben-Eliezer
- French Revolution
- English Puritan Revolution
- Glorious Revolution
- John Locke
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau
- Republican Democracy
- Liberal Democracy
- Democratic Practices
- Arab Spring
- Evolving Democracies