Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Foreign Policy on democratic transitions

I have been reading the magazine Foreign Policy recently, and despite the fact that is understandably American-centric, it does tend to take a broader than usual view of world events.

2. On elections, "Fake it till you make it."
A clear lesson from our case studies is that elections -- even sham elections -- lead to greater success in the transition to substantive democracy. International observers often denounce flawed elections as meaningless attempts to dress authoritarian rule in the trappings of democracy, but elections can also sow the seeds of public expectations that over time blossom into democratic demands that cannot be ignored.
Mexico offers a great example of the unintended consequences of controlled elections. In the 1970s, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party took its quest for electoral legitimacy so far that when the loyal opposition failed to field a presidential candidate in 1976, the government revised the election laws to make it easier for the opposition to gain a few seats. To the party's surprise, when the economic crisis of the early 1980s hit, the opposition was able was able to use this opening to marshal civil society organizations in a campaign for more transparent elections.
In Brazil, the military regime likewise tolerated an opposition it believed it could control. But as economic crisis led to widespread discontent in the early 1980s, the military began to lose its grip on the political situation. Having won their place in the political arena, the opposition was now poised to win a surprisingly large victory in the 1982 elections for Congress and state governors. The earlier "rigged" election had set the stage for the military's downfall in the presidential election of 1986.
Other quantitative evidence confirms that authoritarian regimes with partial political openness are the likeliest to become more democratic, especially if they provide for multiparty electoral competition. So go ahead, support the vote, even if it's not perfect.
Of course, I am still waiting for the article that talks about the problems (!!!) in the United States and elsewhere, where democratic institutions are clearly failing. I have my own theory on this, which I hope to talk about soon.ff

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