Democracy is and always will be in some kind of crisis, for it is constantly redirecting its citizens’ gaze from a more or less unsatisfactory present toward a future of still unfulfilled possibilities.
Volume 18, Issue 1
How Democracies Emerge
Many critics of democracy promotion assert that the rule of law and a well-functioning state should be in place before a society democratizes, but this strategy of "sequencing" is based on a set of mistaken premises.
Those who argue that democracy requires preconditions often cite the example of gradual unfolding set by the established democracies. A glance at history, however, shows that even today's most placid democracies have "backstories" as turbulent as anything found in the developing world today.
The recent "color revolutions" in the former Soviet Union should lead us to reassess the idea of revolution and also to consider the weaknesses of the concept of "democratic transition.
The 1997 financial crisis undermined the argument for a putative “Asian-style democracy” that prioritized economic development over political liberalization. Yet recent electoral and other reforms have set the stage for the emergence of a genuine “Asian model” of democracy.
The Mexican Standoff
A crucial requirement of government by consent is the willingness of defeated candidates and parties to concede when the voters' verdict goes against them. Events in Mexico following its July 2006 presidential election have sorely tested that country's young democracy in this regard.
Mexico’s system of electoral governance and dispute settlement worked reasonably well, yet it created too much noise and too many needless invitations to distrust. The failures observed were less those of institutions than of actors. The loser reacted deplorably, but none of those involved acted in a manner beyond reproach.
Examining Mexico’s electoral rules, political institutions, and the ways in which they interact with one another can tell us much about how current difficulties developed and how they might be resolved.
When Abdullah Ahmad Badawi succeeded Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister in 2003, many expected far-reaching change in Malaysia. So far, however, turnover at the top has not led to significant democratic progress.
Presidential term limits have spread across the world, but in many countries presidents and their allies seek to circumvent or eliminate them. Advocates of democracy must protect this institution, as its role in democratization may be far more powerful than is conventionally recognized.
Does the nature of an authoritarian regime affect the potential for democratic transition? Data since 1972 indicate that some kinds of authoritarian regimes are more likely to democratize than others.
Voters casting ballots are an indispensable element of free government, but who decides which names go on those ballots? Although methods of candidate selection have received surprisingly little study by political scientists, they merit the attention of students of democracy everywhere.
A review of China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy by Minxin Pei.
Reports on elections in Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Congo (Kinshasa), Ecuador, Gabon, The Gambia, Latvia, Madagascar, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Tajikistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zambia.
Excerpts from: remarks delivered at a memorial for Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist and human rights advocate murdered in Moscow on October 7; a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the coup in Thailand; a speech by Felipe Calderón, his first address as Mexico’s president.