This is probably the first blog post that I dedicated spesifically because I am studying International Politics. I’ve been studying since last year, but have not get any interesting matter that would be very interesting to be written on the blog. But now that I found one, here it goes…
I first read this topic about transitional states yesterday (on 26 January, 2012) for my comparative politics class. And, I must say I am stunned on how Thomas Carothers (“The End of the Transition Paradigm”) describes states that have moved away from communism, but cannot also be said as a democratic country and how that bring me quite a lot of resemblance of my own country, Indonesia. Most people will call these kind of states as “third wave” of democracy. But is it true that every country that has moved away from communism will be a democratic country? I am not so sure after I read this article. Not to be pessimistic, but realistic.
It is also believed that to become a democratic country, a country should go through three stages: Opening, Breakthrough and Consolidation (Carothers 2002, p7). This “opening” stage is what Libya experienced currently, where the dictator has stepped down and finally leaving the country at peace. The “breakthrough” is when the government is finally getting a new kind of government and this usually been achieved through election (Current Example: Egypt, Tunisia). The last is called as “consolidation”, where democracy goes beyond election for the people. At this stage, democracy should be felt in many sectors of civil life. Being the most important of all is how the civil society is active. Transitional countries could go forward to achieve real democratic country, or maybe even backward.
One of the most important thing to note from Carothers’s article is that, elections is not equal to democracy. To asses whether a country will get to democracy or not, it is assumed that about their “economic level, political history, institutional legacy, ethnic make-up, sociocultural traditions, and other “structural” features” are not important (Carothers 2002, p8) because looking at Mongolia, Albania, and Mauritania, what is needed is elites that are going in the right direction to be a democratic country.
It is truly surprising that, in the last two decades, there are almost 100 countries that are “transitional states”. However, not even 20 could be said as the countries which is on the path of becoming real democratic country. Some countries could even declared as failed transitional states – they have “limited political space for opposition parties and independent civil society, as well as regular elections and democratic institutions”, but also “poor representation of citizens’ interests, low levels of political participation beyond voting, frequent abuse of the law by government officials, elections of uncertain legitimacy, very low levels of public confidence in state institutions, and persistently poor institutional performance by the state” (Carothers 2002, p9-10).
There are two apparent syndrome of failing democratic country: feckless pluralism and dominant-power politics.
Feckless pluralism is where there are a lot of political oppositions, but they are weak. The state is also weak because the political elites are seen as “corrupt, self-interested. dishonest, and not serious about working for their country” (Carothers 2002, p10). “Successive governments are unable to make headway on most of the major problems facing the country, from crime and corruption to health, education, and public welfare generally” (Carothers 2002, p11). This part is seriously familiar to me. Even the political participation is not go further beyond the voting part in these kinds of country. This syndrome is most apparent in Latin America.
The other one is probably more dangerous, and more authoritarian-like. These countries have some forms of democracy in “dominant-power politics”, but a party will be so strong that they are able to stir the election towards them and not to the other political oppositions. The state and the ruling party are linked very closely together. It is most common in Sub-Saharan Africa, former Soviet Union and Middle East.
In conclusion, not all countries that moves from communism could be called as democracy.
Carothers, T. (2002). ‘The End of the Transition Paradigm’. Journal of Democracy. [online]. 13, (1). Available from: http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/gratis/Carothers-13-1.pdf [25 January 2012].