Tag Archives: democratic transitions

Corrrupt Land Grabs Imperil Burma’s Democratic Transition

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The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to own property [and] no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” In Burma, a country in the early stages of its emergence from a half century of military rule and central economic planning, property rights violations could threaten democracy itself.

Burma lacks many institutions necessary for a market-oriented democracy, such as a reliable court system, dependable electricity, and accessible financial services. The country’s physical infrastructure is also woefully inadequate. Paramount among these issues is rampant corruption and terrible public governance – issues that manifest in the “land-grabbing epidemic” which is sparking protest and civic unrest.

Read the rest of this article at the Thomson Reuters blog.

For Alternatives to the Authoritarian Model, Look to South Africa

Despite its lingering problems, South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy provides many valuable lessons.

Despite its lingering problems, South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy provides many valuable lessons.

This week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit focuses on the topic of “Investing in the Next Generation.” The summit aims to explore issues of economic inclusiveness, democratic development and “creating an enabling environment for the next generation.”

This discussion is especially pertinent in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008, when many in developing countries have begun to lose faith in the wisdom of democratic governance and market-based economic reforms. The rise of Chinese and Russian authoritarianism coupled with robust economic growth in those countries provides a seemingly plausible alternative for lifting millions out of poverty while still allowing autocrats to retain a tight grasp on power.

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), a South African think tank and CIPE partner, examined the post-apartheid experience of South Africa’s transition to market economy and a vibrant democracy in a recently released report entitled “South Africa and the Pursuit of Inclusive Growth.”

As part of a larger initiative known as the “Democracy Consensus”,  CDE’s research shows that democracy is a viable path not only for fostering inclusive economic growth in the short- to medium-term, but also laying the foundations for sound institutions that lead to long-term stability and prosperity.

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The Slow and Steady Transition to Democracy in Pakistan

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In September, Pakistan passed an important democratic milestone: its first peaceful handover of power from one elected government to another, breaking the long cycle of coups and military dictatorship the country has suffered through since its independence.

This moment was a long time in the making, the culmination of many efforts by many different segments of society. Could the slow-and-steady transition be a model for other countries to follow?

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Reconsidering Democratic Transitions

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Yesterday, heavyweights in the world of democracy studies got together at the National Endowment for Democracy — which, like CIPE, turns 30 this year — to discuss what we know about supporting democratic transitions and what we still have to learn.

The idea of “democratic transitions” is a relatively recent one. As formerly authoritarian countries like Portugal, Spain, Greece, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and many in Latin America shifted to democratic forms of government in the 1980s — followed by many formerly Communist nations after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union — a new vocabulary was needed to explain what was happening and why.

Political scientist Samuel Huntington divided these transitions into “waves”: the first occurring in the 19th century, the second after World War II, and the third beginning with Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” in 1974 and arguably continuing through today — with most countries in the world now under some form of democracy.

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After 25 Years, Are Central and Eastern Europe’s Democracies in Danger?

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Romanians protest against President Basescu in January 2012. (Bogdan Cristel/Reuters)

Though some recent machinations remind us that democracy can be a fragile thing, one can observe with guarded optimism that the overall transformation of the Central and Eastern European region to market-oriented democracies has been relatively successful.  To understand where we are today, it’s important to look back to see how far Eastern Europe has come in 25 years.

Many take the Eastern European transitions for granted, noting the existence of market institutions and young democracies before World War II and subsequent Soviet domination, and characterizing the transition as a mere return to business as usual in the region.  This interpretation is flawed, as it fails to realize that what we historically took to be “market institutions” and “democratic practice” in the region prior to post-war communism were deeply flawed and often only skin-deep.

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The State of Global Democracy in 2012

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The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2012 Democracy Index (registration required) paints a grim picture of “democracy at a standstill.” While there are some silver linings — almost half of the world’s population lives in “a democracy of some sort,” a historic achievement — the report highlights how fragile democratic transitions can be.

The report notes that the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 have largely stalled as new regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya struggle to achieve their democratic aspirations and other countries around the region proceed cautiously with their own reforms. Though the MENA region as a whole increased its average democracy score by more than a point, from 3.62 to 3.73, it has a long way to go: “full democracy” requires a score of 8 or greater (scores below 4 are considered “authoritarian regimes.”)

At the same time, much of Eastern Europe, which began its transition more than 20 years ago, saw an erosion of democracy in 2012. Authoritarian regimes in many CIS countries became increasingly entrenched while political cultures in the democracies of east-central Europe weakened. Countries in Latin America were plagued by organized crime, attacks on media freedom, and populist movements with authoritarian tendencies. Even long-established Western democracies reported declines in political participation and the functioning of government, the report said.

One bright spot was Sub-Saharan Africa, which continues its slow and steady democratic progress, though the island of Mauritius remains the only African state rated as a “full democracy.”

More than anything, though, this index shows that the work of democratic transition is far from over. As the report notes, “It is not easy to build a sturdy democracy. Even in long-established ones, democracy can corrode if not nurtured and protected.”

This is why CIPE has worked, and will continue to work, in each of these regions to help their citizens build democracies that deliver for the long term.

Jon Custer is Social Media/Communications Coordinator at CIPE.

Youth Take on Democratic Transitions

If you’ve been following CIPE’s activities centered around Democracy Day, you’ve seen a lot of young people making their opinions heard. Indeed, young people are more engaged now than ever, thanks to social media platforms that unite and amplify their voices. Democracy is, by its very nature, a hopeful political system; it presupposes the beliefs that everyone should have an equal say, every vote matters, things can change, and the future is always brighter. Young people tend to be the most hopeful, so it is no surprise when they support democracy.

The second and third place winners in the Democratic Transitions category of CIPE’s Youth Essay Competition both agree that youth have a vital role to play in democracy. Kristen Han believes that in Singapore, young people must take greater initiative to join into political and civil discourse. They already have the tools; they simply lack the will.  Judith Aduol Nyamanga writes that education and entrepreneurship are key to youth in Kenya. Economic empowerment will give rise to more capable and engaged young people.  Read both essays here.

CIPE is now accepting entries for the 2012 Youth Essay Competition, which focuses on the theme of entrepreneurship. Winner in each category will have their essays published as Feature Service articles and receive a $500 honorarium, and a special Grand Prize winner will be awarded the opportunity to attend an entrepreneurship conference in the United States in 2013. Find out more here.